On his right arm, fifth-year volleyball player Jon Steller has tattooed Greek numbers symbolizing his favorite biblical passage: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
He can see the tattoo when he makes a “kill” – a volleyball spike the opposing team is unable to return; when he rolls up his sleeves while volunteering at a free healthcare clinic in Mexico; and when he’s in class, pursuing a double major in neurobiology and the classics at UC Irvine.
“It’s a way to check if I’m living according to my philosophy – if I’m doing the right thing,” says Steller, who hopes to become a doctor.
That philosophy has made him a winner on the court, in the community and at school, earning him the 2009 Lauds & Laurels award for outstanding student-athlete. (The UCI Alumni Association’s Lauds & Laurels ceremony takes place Thursday, May 14, at the Hilton Irvine.)
Steller has helped his teammates reach the top of their game, winning the national title in 2007 and delivering another white-knuckle season this spring.
“After we won the national title, we went to the White House and met President Bush. It was a neat experience to shake his hand and give him a stuffed Anteater,” Steller says.
Among many other athletic and academic honors, he made the 2007 Living Our Values student honor roll and was named to the 2008 American Volleyball Coaches Association All-America Second Team.
Still, Steller’s not in the game for personal glory.
After a knee injury and a painful loss in the 2006 NCAA semifinals, he says, he “learned to set aside my own goals for team goals.”
“Out of this team awareness sprouted a social awareness,” Steller wrote in his medical school application. “Assuming responsibility for my teammates, my friends and my family, while honorable, isn’t enough. I have a social responsibility to step outside my comfortable Southern California life, whether it is 10,000 miles or 10 minutes from home, because I have the capacity to make a difference.”
In 2007, he spent three weeks in Ukraine on a humanitarian mission, visiting orphanages and establishing a summer camp for homeless children. “Many are toddlers abandoned by their parents. We went there to give them some attention and hope,” Steller says.
He also belongs to OrangeFISH (Fellowship for International Service and Health), a student-run nonprofit that provides medical services to the needy abroad. Under its auspices, Steller in May 2008 assisted a doctor at a clinic for the poor outside Tijuana, Mexico.
“Jon transcends what it means to be a student-athlete by his global perspective and service,” wrote athletics director Michael Izzi in his Lauds & Laurels nomination letter.
This fall, after marrying his high school sweetheart, Steller will begin medical school at UCI – his first choice, he says, because “it has the same philosophy that I do of wanting to serve the underserved.”