Service ace

For volleyball phenom Tanya Schmidt ’12, her assists happen on the court, in the Tenderloin, and with missionaries in Peru.

Service ace
Bump, set, spike: Tanya Schmidt at the net Photo by Mike Rasay '01, M.S. '07.

Coming out of high school, Tanya Schmidt ’12 had her pick of colleges. As an All-American in volleyball and a National Merit finalist, the Cupertino native possessed a grade point average just as impressive as her hitting percentage. But she always saw herself as more than an athlete or aspiring scholar.

“I came to Santa Clara because of the person that I wanted to be four years later,” Schmidt says. “There was just something about Santa Clara that made me feel the school would really challenge me.”

It was the Jesuit emphasis on educating the whole person—the promise of developing not only athletically and academically, but spiritually—that drew her to the Mission Campus. Three years later, it’s clear that Schmidt’s SCU journey is remarkable for how totally it has involved the whole shebang she was looking for: In 2010, she was the only Bronco on the All-WCC first volleyball team and the only WCC player on the Academic All-American All-District team. Carrying minors in classics and religious studies, the English major is president of the English honor society with a GPA only a sliver below a 4.0.

“She is a person of depth, mind, and heart—one who thinks and cares and who acts on her compassion.” Michael Engh, S.J.

Her intellect and athleticism come together on the court, where the 6-foot-2-inch middle blocker is a quiet killer. Coach Jon Wallace insists his star player has never yelled at anyone on the court. Ever. Instead, she motivates with a kindness, doing her homework and using her smarts in preparing for play—and mid-game.

“She memorizes our opponents’ website and roster to gain a competititive edge,” Wallace says. “All of her actions are for a reason. She wants to know what is going to happen next before her opponent does.”

Schmidt has also developed her spiritual and service life, volunteering with Santa Clara Community Action Program to deliver meals to the terminally ill in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. She has taught English to a Peruvian cafeteria worker. As a junior, she was a Campus Ministry intern, scheduling 50 volunteers to provide Eucharist each Sunday.

“She is a person of depth, mind, and heart—one who thinks and cares and who acts on her compassion,” says SCU President Michael Engh, S.J.

During Schmidt’s sophomore year, Engh nominated her for a conference of 50 students from around the country at the Vatican’s mission to the United Nations in New York, where they met with ambassadors and U.N. officials.

“It was fascinating,” Schmidt says, even as it helped her realize her calling is closer to the ground. Rather than seeking justice through policy change, she is meant to serve others in a hands-on way.

After returning from the conference, Schmidt headed on an adventure closer to that calling. Thanks to a Donovan Fellowship from SCU, she flew to Cuzco, Peru, where she taught English to impoverished elementary schoolchildren and volunteered at the Missionaries of Charity’s home for the dying and destitute. There she cared for crippled babies and fed the incapacitated.

“Even though these people are forgotten [by others], they are not forgotten by the Sisters,” says Schmidt, who speaks Spanish as well as Mandarin. “They are such beacons of light and hope.”

Part of Schmidt’s secret is extreme time management. For example, she returned from Peru only 90 minutes before she had to start weight training for the pending volleyball season. But she also knows how to take pauses in the day to reflect and recharge. And then do.

“If you really love something, you can find time for it,” she says. Sam Scott ’96

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