Nov. 23, 2014
Alex Coccia, a 2014 University of Notre Dame graduate, the 2013-14 Notre Dame student body president and a former Irish fencer, has been selected to the American Rhodes Scholar Class of 2015.
“It’s an incredible honor, and I’m humbled, to be named a Rhodes Scholar representing the University of Notre Dame,” said Coccia. “I am deeply grateful for the support and invaluable mentorship I’ve received over my time at Notre Dame – from faculty, staff and my fellow students. The mission of the Rhodes Trust is reflected in our own, to engage critically so that learning becomes service to justice. The academic experience in Africana Studies and Peace Studies taught me to apply those shared values to ‘fighting the world’s fight.’ I look forward to continuing this journey at Oxford.”
A Columbus, Ohio, native, Coccia was selected from a pool of 877 candidates who had been nominated by their colleges and universities. He is Notre Dame’s 15th Rhodes Scholar and first since 2002. This year’s 32 Rhodes Scholars will commence their studies at Oxford in October 2015.
“Alex did what we hope all students will do as undergraduates at Notre Dame. He took his learning experience beyond the classroom and took full advantage of all the resources on campus to discern his path, cultivate his gifts and serve as a transformational leader,” said Dr. Deb Rotman, Paul and Maureen Stefanick Faculty Director in the Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE).
Coccia majored in Africana Studies and Peace Studies at Notre Dame. Currently a Truman-Albright Fellow in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C., he won election as student body president, running on a platform focused on promoting the passions and interests of all students, including those who feel marginalized. A member of the Glynn Family Honors Program, he worked to serve peers and improve the campus climate on a variety of issues, most notably to increase awareness for students who identify as LGBTQ minority students, students who are undocumented citizens and students impacted by sexual violence.
Involved in numerous Notre Dame clubs and activities, Coccia also served as president of the Progressive Student Alliance, steering committee member for the Call to Action Committee and founder of the 4 to 5 Movement.
He was also a member of the Fighting Irish varsity fencing team, which won the 2011 NCAA title in his freshman season. Coccia earned three monograms while competing on the men’s sabre squad. His career record with the Irish was 74-63, including a 32-18 mark as a sophomore in 2012. He finished sixth at the Midwest Fencing Conference (MFC) Championships in 2012 and eighth in both 2011 and 2014, thrice earning second-team all-MFC honors. He won four sabre bouts while competing at the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional.
In the summer of 2011, after his freshman season with the team, Coccia traveled to Uganda in East Africa to teach the sport of fencing to those less fortunate–a service mission that perfectly complemented his intended Africana Studies major. Coccia served as a three-year FIRE starter peer educator in the Gender Relations Center.
In April Coccia received the Rev. A. Leonard Collins, C.S.C., Award at the Student Leadership Awards Banquet held by the University’s Student Affairs Office. The award honors a graduating senior who has made substantial personal efforts to advance the interests of students at Notre Dame.
Coccia plans to study comparative social policy at Oxford. He’s a graduate of St. Charles Preparatory High School (Columbus, Ohio) and helped his high school fencing team to the Ohio state title as a sophomore. His father Peter is a 1972 Notre Dame graduate.
Coccia advanced through a rigorous multi-step selection process for applicants, including seeking endorsement from their colleges or universities. This year approximately 1,600 students sought their institution’s endorsement; 877 were endorsed by 305 colleges and universities. Committees in each of 16 U.S. districts then invite the strongest applicants to appear before them for interviews. Applicants are chosen on the basis of the criteria set down in the Will of Cecil Rhodes.
According to the Rhodes Trust, along with academic excellence, “a Rhodes Scholar should also have great personal energy, ambition for impact and an ability to work with others and to achieve one’s goals. In addition, a Rhodes Scholar should be committed to make a strong difference for good in the world, be concerned for the welfare of others and be conscious of inequities. And finally, a Rhodes Scholar should show great promise of leadership.”
Rhodes Scholarships, awarded annually since 1902, provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England and may allow funding in some instances for four years.
Allison Wettstein, a member of the University of Notre Dame Class of 2013, was also a Rhodes Scholar finalist this year.
The last Notre Dame Rhodes Scholar to participate in athletics was Don Sniegowski, a 1957 graduate from Toledo, Ohio, who earned three monograms as a baseball infielder and spent 41 years as an English professor at Notre Dame.