Faith and a Strong Foundation

The Albert Family

“As soon as I stepped foot on campus, I knew it was where I was meant to be. Every class I took was tied to a core value – which was really important to me.”

You might say it was fate that brought Jessa Albert to Saint Leo University – or maybe it was divine intervention. Jessa had already decided she wanted to attend Saint Leo and knew she would need financial assistance. So, when her best friend received a postcard from Saint Leo for a special scholarship event, Jessa waited anxiously for her own invitation to arrive. It never did.

Her father, Joe Albert, remembers the day well. “She said, ‘I’m going to call Saint Leo and find out why I didn’t receive the invitation.’” Jessa learned that her ACT scores were one or two points below the threshold for attendees, but she convinced the school to let her take part in the scholarship event.

“They said, ‘we’ll guarantee you a $1,000 scholarship if you come and pass this test and do well,’” recalls Joe. “It was the same day as her birthday and she spent the whole day testing. Afterward, we went to hear the results. They announced the $1,000 scholarships and Jessa’s name wasn’t called. Then they announced the $6,000 scholarships and again Jessa wasn’t one of them. We were disappointed. But then they announced one more award, which was the $8,000 scholarship, and finally her name was called. We were shocked – and thrilled.”

Jessa’s mother, Jennifer Albert, agrees. “It was a wonderful birthday present,” she says. “And it spurred our younger daughter, Jackie, to want to attend Saint Leo as well. When Jackie started, it felt very natural. It’s a beautiful campus and it feels like an extension of our family. The girls could go to mass on campus, which is very comforting to us. We were glad they were able to continue their faith while they’re in college.”

As lifelong educators, the elder Alberts have been impressed with the quality of instruction at Saint Leo. Jessa, who followed in her parents’ footsteps and graduated in May with a degree in education, and Jackie, studying international tourism and hospitality management, agree. And, in addition to academics, both point to a strong sense of community as a core strength of the Saint Leo experience.

As Jessa says, “As soon as I stepped foot on campus, I knew it was where I was meant to be. Every class I took was tied to a core value – which was really important to me. I knew I had strong values and Saint Leo led me to meet other people with similar beliefs who wanted to help me flourish. The sense of community on campus is tremendous. Even if I was sitting in the cafeteria next to a professor from a different department, we’d introduce ourselves and suddenly I would have a new friend. I found it to be very unique. I felt really valued as a person and it was a really strong part of my experience.”

Jennifer credits the strength of the Education Department at Saint Leo as one of the reasons Jessa was chosen to participate in the highly competitive Teach for America program, which seeks to enlist college graduates from the top universities in the United States to serve as teachers in marginalized areas. “Jessa was one of 60 applicants chosen from a pool of 6,000,” Jennifer says.

Today, Jessa is living in Memphis, Tennessee and teaching in a charter school in the bottom 5 percent of the state. “It’s a very high-need community and has gone through a lot of challenges. There is high teacher turnover and school administrators are all new this year. I don’t think I’ll ever have a year of teaching that will be harder than this year is for me,” Jessa says.

But she is more than ready for the challenge. “I could have easily found a job locally through my parents’ connections or through my own but I wanted to make an impact. The lessons I learned at Saint Leo taught me to live my personal values and really set me up for my future. Saint Leo prepared me well.”