November 16, 2011

Tanya Schmidt Interviews for Rhodes Scholarship

Tanya Schmidt will miss Senior Day tomorrow, Sat., Nov. 19, vs. rival Saint Mary's, not due to an injury or a cold floating around campus but rather, because she will be interviewing for a Rhodes Scholarship to study at the University of Oxford. She will be one of 15 interviewing in San Francisco for two coveted spots. If selected, she will begin at Oxford next fall. Other finalists in her district attend colleges at Harvard, Cornell, MIT, Brown, Georgetown, Stanford and Cal-Berkeley, to name a few.

Schmidt is the second Bronco student-athlete to interview for a Rhodes Scholarship in the past three years. Noelle Lopez received the prestigious award in 2008 (click here for story on Noelle).

To say Schmidt is special is an understatement. Her competitive, but compassionate demeanor on and off the court contributes to her one-of-a-kind personality.  See below for Bronco head coach Jon Wallace's comments on Tanya Schmidt and the Bronco Senior Day of Schmidt and Bridget O'Hara.

Schmidt, who carries a 3.971 grade point average, was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District First Team on Nov. 11.  She is the only West Coast Conference Player on the First Team and the only volleyball player from the WCC to be recognized the past two years on the All-District team.  Her name will now be forwarded to the Academic All-American national committee. 

This fall she was named to the 2011 WCC Preseason All-Conference Team and also honored as one of the 30 candidates nominated for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. In Fall 2010, she was named to the All-West Coast Conference First Team, West Coast Conference Fall All-Academic Team and ESPN.com CoSIDA Academic All-American All-District Third Team. To add more flavor to the mix, she is a three-time awardee on the WCC Commissioner's Honor Roll, Gold List.

A unanimous choice to be captain of the 2011 Bronco volleyball team, Schmidt is an English major with minors in Classics and Religious Studies.  She is also proficient in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese.  Her honors and awards include: University Honors Program; Phi Beta Kappa; Dean's List 3 straight years; President of Phi Phi Chapter of Sigma Tau Delta (International English Honors Society); Vice President of Santa Clara University Chapter of Alpha Sigma Nu (Honors Society of Jesuit schools); member of Eta Sigma Phi (National Classical Honors Society); and member of Theta Alpha Kappa (National Honors Society of Religious Studies and Theology).

Because of her character, she has been asked to represent the university on a number of occasions. In Spring 2010 she was the Santa Clara University female representative to the Path to Peace Foundation's week-long annual conference co-sponsored by the United Nations and the Holy See. Only 50 college students were selected to attend the conference on Catholic Social Teaching titled "Freedom, Truth, and Charity: Promoting Human Development as a Vocation." Schmidt had the opportunity to discuss global justice issues with sitting United Nations Ambassadors.

Schmidt served as the university's female representative on the West Coast Conference Student-Athlete Advisory Committee for two years. As a primary liaison between student-athletes and conference administration, she advocated for student-athlete welfare, helped to organize a sportsmanship campaign to encourage ethical behavior at sporting events, and promoted Student-Athlete Advisory Committee community service initiatives such as the Zappos.com Shoe Drive.

With her volleyball team she has helped organize and has walked three straight years in Santa Clara's Walk 4 Pancreatic Cancer which has raised more than $60,000 in its last three years.

In Dec. 2009, Schmidt participated on a service trip to New Orleans through Catholic Charities. With the grant money from the Jean Donovan Fellowship, in Summer 2010 she taught English to elementary school children in Cusco, Peru, and volunteered at the Cusco Mother Teresa Home for the Dying and the Destitute in her spare time. She participated in an immersion trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua through Santa Clara University's Food and Agribusiness Institute in Summer 2011. In Nicaragua she participated in a day of service through ATRAVES, an international non-profit. With the desire to also volunteer close to home, through the Santa Clara Community Action Program, Schmidt's activities have included teaching English to a Spanish-speaking cafeteria worker on campus and distributing sandwiches to the homeless in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco on Friday afternoons. Schmidt has worked on campus as a Student Ambassador, Campus Ministry Intern, and Peer Tutor at the Writing Center.

As a model athlete, student, and citizen, Schmidt embodies the very essence of Santa Clara University.

SCU: How did you find out that you got an interview for it? When did you apply? Talk a little bit about that.

TS: The application was due October 5. It requires a personal statement and a resumé, as well as up to eight recommendation letters. The whole process is online. I submitted my application in early October. I remember it was the night before we left for BYU. After I applied, I didn't think about it too much. I just focused on school and volleyball.

About a month later, when I was on a volleyball trip in L.A., I received an email saying I was a finalist. The day after we played Pepperdine, Coach Jon Wallace and Coach Will Yuen took us to Manhattan Beach to spend some free time. I wandered off to sit on a lifeguard tower. As I sat there, watching the waves crash onto the shore, I felt a deep sense of calm and peace. When I checked my iPhone, I saw the email— an invitation to interview.

SCU: When you saw it was from them, what did you think? Were you like "oh my goodness!"  Were you nervous or how did you feel?

TS: I did feel a little nervous, but, sitting there on the lifeguard tower, watching the waves continuously crash onto the shore, I knew that, no matter what the email said, I was going to be okay. When I opened the email and found out I was a finalist, all I could do was say "Thank you" out loud. I think I started laughing. And then, I prayed—saying thank you.

It was a chilly November morning. That section of the beach was pretty empty, and I was by myself. Well, I had brought a book, so I guess I had an author friend with me! (laughs) Anyway, I sat there watching the waves a little longer, and I took a picture of the moment—the edge of the tower, the waves, the little bit of sun poking through the clouds that day. Soon it was time to go, so I went back to the vans and met up with my team.

SCU: When did you tell Coach Wallace? Was he so happy that he cried with joy?

TS: I told him later that afternoon. He was sitting in the hallway, waiting for everyone to arrive at film. When I walked into the hallway, I sat down next to him. He got a big smile on his face, and he gave me the fist bump and said he was proud of me. Coach Wallace has been very supportive throughout this process, and I am grateful for his encouragement!

SCU: You and Jon talked about it later and had to decide some things. The day of the interview conflicts with your Senior Day. "I don't want to miss Senior Day, and should I do it? Should I not?" Can you talk a little bit about that?

TS: The Rhodes Committee requests that the finalists be available from 8 am to 8 pm on the day of the interview. I was considering leaving the interview for the middle part of the day to be with my team on Senior Day, but, after talking about it with Coach Wallace and with the Santa Clara University Director of the Office of Fellowships, Professor William Greenwalt, I decided that I want to be fully present at the experience and I don't want to be split.

SCU: Was that a tough decision for you to miss your own Senior Day? Lots of tears?

TS: It was a very tough decision to miss Senior Day because I'm committed to my team and I'm so emotionally invested in this program. But, I know that my team is supportive and is happy that I am doing what is best for me.

SCU: You've done tons of work to prepare. What have you done in the past week to prepare?

TS: I've had mock interviews and meetings and conversations with various people, but ultimately the best piece of advice that I've received is just to be myself. As silly or simple as it may sound, I feel much more confident when I am being myself, rather than trying to be someone I'm not. If I can present to the Rhodes Committee the best Tanya I know how to be, then no matter what happens, I will be happy with how the day went.

SCU: As a student-athlete here for 4 years, what will you take into that room to help you? What will help you in that room because you were a student-athlete here?

TS: Playing college volleyball has prepared me for the interview in several ways. To be a successful, competitive athlete one must be aware of one's strengths as well as one's weaknesses. One hopes that one's strengths will be enough to win, and on any given night, anything can happen. Furthermore, I know I am not going to win every match I play, but if I put forth my best effort, then at the end of the day, I can walk away with my head held high. Being a student-athlete has taught me how to compete every single point, and I trust my preparation process. Finally, having played in my last college volleyball match ever against Portland last weekend...can you tell I'm not quite ready to accept that yet? (laughs), I am reminded of how precious each moment of life really is. This weekend at the interview, I want to be fully present, and to enjoy the experience, no matter what happens. I am looking forward to it and feel honored to have the opportunity to interview!

Bronco head volleyball coach Jon Wallace had this to say about Schmidt and O'Hara
"First on Tanya Schmidt's interview for the Rhodes Scholar, I am very happy for Tanya. This is an opportunity of a lifetime. This is an opportunity she has created for herself in the last four years here at Santa Clara and it's great for it to come into fruition for her.  It's an opportunity for her to be a Rhodes Scholar. Wow, a Rhodes Scholar. That can't be matched anywhere.  When we first recruited her knew her academics were very important to her.  And the balance that Santa Clara was able to provide for her was the best of two worlds and that was the best reason she chose Santa Clara – to be a student at the highest level who could provide service with the Jesuit practice in mind and also an athlete at a high level.  I am just thrilled she will have this opportunity at Santa Clara University.

Last week after a lot of through and reflection, Tanya informed me last Saturday, our match vs. Portland on Nov. 12, would  be her Senior day.  We had talked about it quite a bit during last week and it was a decision that wasn't easy for her – to skip Senior Day to interview for the Rhodes Scholarship.  It was neat to share that with her. Before the match and during the match I knew that she was absorbing it all for the rest of her life.  Knowing she was taking that opportunity to reflect  on those four years at Santa Clara I knew that her last match was very special and we hope to make the Saint Mary's match special for Bridget O'Hara too. Bridget is a senior that has meant a lot to our program as well.  I am very happy and very pleased that Tanya was able to make last Saturday her last match and she grabbed that moment and made it very special for her and for her team. I hope Bridget can do the same and I wish these two young ladies that best of luck as they move forward in live. They will be a success and I am happy that Santa Clara will have played a big part in their development the last four years."