Getting to Know Grace ’24 and Sophie Yonkers-Talz ’23
When Santa Clara first-year Grace Yonkers-Talz ’24 lands on campus, she’ll arrive with more insights than most other newbies—thanks to big sister Sophie Yonkers-Talz ’23.
Start with Sophie’s recommendation to check out different campus clubs, attending at least one of its meetings.
“If you hate it, you don’t have to go back,” says Grace, quoting Sophie.
Taking advantage of professors’ office hours is important, too, says Sophie, not only for their help after class, but as a link to future employment opportunities.
And above all, be who you want to be; don’t be afraid to speak your mind.
“I’ve been telling her to just reach out to people; they don’t know what they're doing, either,” says Sophie. “Everyone is in the same boat.”
It certainly helps that both undergrads—and their two younger sisters, ages 15 and 10—had already spent time on campus whenever their parents visited SCU over the years.
Kevin and Trena Yonkers-Talz were co-founders and co-directors of Casa de la Solidaridad, Santa Clara University’s study abroad program in El Salvador.
The 21-year-old program—recently shuttered because of concerns over safety—had been a mainstay for SCU students, faculty, and Jesuit priests for its longstanding commitment to educating students about social justice issues in Central America.
While the family has since relocated to New York City, El Salvador remains a beloved place to the four sisters who grew up there, immersed in a different language and culture, and imbued with social justice as a way of life.
“It taught me to look at life from other perspectives,” says Grace, a child studies major who chose Santa Clara because of its commitment to social justice. “It was the best school that would prepare me for my future.”
The same philosophy is ingrained in Sophie, a public health science major who is already involved in Santa Clara’s Community Action Program (SCCAP), a community-based service organization dedicated to applying activism and justice to address social issues in and around the campus community.
Though she is white, she is also a proud and active member of SCU’s Latinx Club. Having spent most of their lives in El Salvador, “we have a pretty bi-cultural identity,” says Sophie of her U.S. born parents and sisters, for whom speaking Spanish is second-nature.
Circling back to her advice to Grace, Sophie says the best place to study on campus is the quiet St. Clare Room on the third floor of the University Library, while the Mission Church is a peaceful sanctuary whenever you need to clear your head.
As for food, she swears by the falafels at Achilles Restaurant, and the spicy chicken wings at Wicked Chicken. (Full disclosure: it’s owned by their father’s cousin, Matt McClean ’97.)
Sophie also urges Grace, and all students, to take advantage of SCU’s alumni network, just as she has done with alum who participated in their parent’s program in El Salvador over the years.
Afterall, she says, “I took a lot of the advice they gave me when I came to Santa Clara.”
Written by Tracy Seipel
Sep 28, 2020
Santa Clara University's Grace Yonkers-Talz '24, left, and sister Sophie Yonkers-Talz '23.