“Wherever I go and whomever I’m with, I want to be positive about everything and have a joyful attitude. I look at the bright side of everything, so whomever I’m around, I want them to feel better or happier than before I approached them,” she said. “It’s who I am, a happy, joyful person and I want to spread that positivity around because it’s so easy to get wrapped up in everything and stress out.”
A double major in biology and theology and religious studies, McCarthy (pictured, with Erin Lovette-Colyer at left) is the real deal. A four-year competitor for the cross-country program and team captain, she’s fully committed to University Ministry programs ranging from Sunday Mass and Wednesday’s Mass for Peace, the Students for Life organization where she’s in her second year as co-president, Tijuana Spring Breakthrough, a participant in the Search Retreat and her leadership as a resident assistant (RA) in the Alcala Vista Apartments, where she oversees sophomores in the Living in Faith Together residential learning community and its Emmaus group.
For her many contributions to others and the example she sets in all that she does, McCarthy is the 2013 Undergraduate Student Woman of Impact Award winner, an honor bestowed at the annual USD Women’s Center luncheon. True to her nature, McCarthy, while happy to win the award, spends more time praising the other nominees.
“It’s an honor to be nominated. When I saw whom I was nominated with, all of the girls, especially the ones I’ve met before, have made a profound impact on the campus and on my life. It’s an honor to be in their company. I’m humbled to get it, but easily any of the other women deserved to win the award.”
McCarthy’s answer is a reminder of what she cherishes most about her time as a USD student: “It’s the people I’ve met here that makes everything worth it. No matter what I’m doing, I know I have friends who love me and want to spend time with me. When I’m out there early every morning to run with my cross-country teammates, we have a great time and we enjoy each other’s company. Those I’ve been fortunate to meet when I’m doing community service really make it worth it.”
One person in particular McCarthy credits for connecting her within USD is Mackenzie Maurer, a 2012 alumna who, when McCarthy was a freshman in fall 2010, was her RA. “She was an all-star on campus and when she heard I was interested in University Ministry, she took me and introduced me to Mary Kruer and Erin Bishop and others. I’m really glad I had people like her who I could look up to and learn how it’s done. I want to be that person for others.”
Nominations for Women of Impact are done anonymously and McCarthy’s nominator validates her impact: “Jessica is a model of servant-leadership in all she does, a model of faith in action, and a role model to so many in so many ways. Jessica is probably the most inclusive student leader I’ve had the privilege to know. … She builds bridges between people of differing political and religious affiliations through compassionate listening and a humble stance toward others. She is selfless in service toward those in need and also willing to receive the self-growth and blessings that come from being on the margins of society.”
McCarthy’s most recent opportunity to serve came the week before Thanksgiving when Students for Life members participated in the Interfaith Shelter Network program. Students make a meal for shelter visitors and engage in great discussions that break down barriers and provide a truly experiential moment.
Each experience, she says, deepens her faith.
“I had a strong youth group in high school so I came here looking for that again,” she said. “Faith has been a huge part of my experience at USD. I’ve found people to share my faith with and ways to grow in my faith. I found a sharing group that meets with Father Mike after the Mass for Peace and I lead a group of sophomores. I’ve gained a new perspective of the Catholic faith through immersion trips and the social justice aspect of Catholicism that I didn’t know much about before I came to USD. The issues we tackle in Students for Life; seeing poverty in Tijuana. It’s helped me see my faith in a new way, seeing Christ in a new way, through the marginalized people I’ve met.”
McCarthy’s educational growth at USD includes the classroom and laboratory, too. She’s done research with Associate Professor of Biology, Geoffrey Morse, and will be finishing soon to give her Senior Seminar presentation. She’s also considering submitting a poster presentation for USD’s April undergraduate research showcase, Creative Collaborations.
Discussing spring events makes McCarthy sentimental. She is applying for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and plans to do that immediately after graduation in May. Nevertheless, she’s not ready to leave USD just yet. “This has become my home after nearly four years. I will miss everything when I graduate. I’ll miss the people, the buildings, the views and sunsets at the beach.”
But McCarthy’s vast USD experiences make her an inspiring resource for younger female students to seek advice.
“Let your passion lead you,” McCarthy says, recalling a friend’s advice to her. “I’ve found things I’m passionate about or have come to be passionate about and I’ve let that guide what I’m involved in and the decisions that I make. For a student coming in, if you know what you’re passionate about, find that group and get involved. If there’s not a group, create it.”
— Ryan T. Blystone