Jocelyn Alcala ’17 has been gone from the College of Saint Benedict for almost five years, but she’ll never totally leave it behind.
Originally from suburban Salt Lake City, a pair of her former high school teachers were married graduates of CSB and Saint John’s University. They enticed her older sister to visit Saint Ben’s and, next thing you know, four of five siblings in her family wound up studying at the two schools.
Majoring in elementary education, Alcala became a fifth-grade teacher in Utah, but recently had a career epiphany that you also can trace to CSB+SJU, where she was an Intercultural Leadership Education and Development (Intercultural LEAD) program scholar. The program supports underrepresented, high-achieving, first-generation college students who have demonstrated leadership.
“Growing up in Utah, I didn’t often see people of color or minorities going to higher education,” Alcala said. “My initial interest in teaching was because I never had a teacher that spoke Spanish or who looked like me. I went into teaching, and I loved it, but I realized that I enjoyed working with youth more than I did being in the classroom. I felt a calling to be more formed in my faith and to serve the church. I think being in (Intercultural) LEAD helped me realize there are many ways I, as a first-gen student, can encourage others to go to college. Being a teacher in a classroom wasn’t the only one. I saw my role as a youth minister as a way to be even more involved.”
She migrated to the Echo Graduate Service Program at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master of arts in theology while serving in a partner diocese in Lafayette, Indiana. In March, she started a new job about two hours northeast as associate director of youth and young-adult ministry with the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, which is home to 82 parishes, 39 Catholic grade schools and four Catholic high schools. The area has a large Hispanic population and Alcala will help support youth ministers throughout the diocese in reaching that community.
She said approximately half of all Catholics in the U.S. are Hispanic youth under 18.
“We want to build and form them now so they can be leaders for tomorrow,” she said.
Alcala might be what some of them aspire to become. Her older sister was an Intercultural LEAD scholar and an older brother graduated from SJU in 2020. A younger sister, Dana, is a current sophomore at CSB and another Intercultural LEAD scholar. Those chosen for the program participate in small cohorts where they bond with one another during a pre-orientation campus visit. They are mentored and encouraged to become role models and leaders on campus and in greater communities.
“It was like you had an (Intercultural) LEAD family in addition to all the other people you got to know because you lived in the same hallway or had the same classes,” Alcala said. “It creates community.”
That’s at the heart of what she wants to do. Alcala worked in campus ministry as a student and one of her greatest mentors has been S. Sharon Nohner ’73, OSB.
“She always told me, ‘Jocelyn, I don’t think you’re going to be a teacher forever. I think you’re going to work for the church,’” Alcala said. “So, she called that one. Now she’s like, ‘I think you’re going to work at a national or even world level.’ I’m like ‘I don’t know, Sister Sharon ...’ But that model of mentorship and support from (Intercultural) LEAD is something I recognize as very valuable. I want to continue to provide that for other people.”