A University Campus senior graduating in May is the first Saint Leo University student to be selected for a service award bestowed by Delta Epsilon Sigma, a national honor society for students at colleges and universities with a Catholic tradition.

Isabella "Bella" Jacus, 22, has been selected as one of the 2021 national recipients of the society's J. Patrick Lee Prize for Service. The distinction elevates work that reflects the principles of Catholic Social Teaching as demonstrated in students' commitment to service. Jacus, who is completing a dual major in biology (specifically, the biomedical and health sciences track) and in religion, was nominated by one of her advisors, Dr. Thomas Humphries, who teaches religion and theology courses. Her signature—but not only—service accomplishment has been the launch of a fundraising walk to raise awareness and donations for research and patient care provided by the National Brain Tumor Society. She started the event earlier in her college career in commemoration of her dear, late uncle, who died of a tumor some years earlier when Jacus was still in middle school. He, too, studied at Saint Leo University.

This year's event is listed with the national society as the 2021 Tampa Bay Area Brain Tumor 5K Virtual Walk/Run, and is organized so that anyone, anywhere, can safely participate, ideally between Sunday, April 11, and Saturday, April 17. Optional Zoom events are also scheduled during that time. The fundraising goal for the week is $2,100, or, as Jacus said, "the motto is 2.1 for 2021." Jacus maintains her own fundraising page for the cause, as well, and explains at the site more about her late uncle's story and academic projects devoted to brain cancers.

Faith and community

While Jacus has become known on campus in association with that event, Humphries, her advisor, wrote in his letter to Delta Epsilon Sigma that Jacus puts prayer and service to her family, community and church at the forefront of her life. She has been active in pro-life club activities, campus ministry, parish ministry, music, and student tutoring, Humphries wrote.

Humphries also noted in his letter that Jacus has excelled in her academic work, which has included completing the university's Honors Program along with her degree requirements. He wrote of Jacus that "she is the A-student that professors fight to recruit for their upper level classes and their non-credit bearing reading groups. Isabella has the mind of a student and the heart of a servant."

(Pictured: from left, Dr. Thomas Humphries, graduating student Isabella Jacus with her award notification, and Dr. Valerie Wright.)

Jacus, who hopes to become a doctor, said receiving the award has provided her with inspiration to keep working hard, and a practical benefit in the form of a $1,000 stipend.

"On an emotional level, receiving the award has been an honor for me and filled me with excitement and encouragement," she said. "I plan to put the money towards the cost for taking the MCAT [Medical College Admission Test] and applying for medical schools next year. Being recognized for my service has also added to my zeal to continue giving back to my community and the world throughout my life, during which Catholic Social Teaching will certainly guide my actions."  

A distinction as a science major

Shortly after Jacus and Dr. Valerie Wright, Saint Leo's advisor to the campus chapter of Delta Epsilon Sigma, learned of the service award, the Saint Leo senior was chosen for another national distinction.

Dr. Audrey Shor of the biology faculty, who is also an advisor to Jacus, reported that the senior was selected from a number of competitive applicants to be inducted into the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) Honor Society, which recognizes exceptional undergraduates pursuing degrees based in molecular disciplines at universities with ASBMB student chapters. Shor said that Jacus distinguished herself by getting involved in Saint Leo's student chapter during her freshman year, and in taking opportunities to mature as a scientist through hands-on projects and research activities.

"She was selected for this [ASBMB] honor because she exceeds expectations in her scholarly achievements, research accomplishments and significant contributions to outreach efforts," Shor said of Jacus.

Jacus is from northern New Jersey and graduated from Paramus Catholic High School.

Look back to this story from 2019 for previous coverage of Jacus and her inspiration.