Zamantha Lopez’s drive for academic success began with a set of books in fifth grade. The 18-year-old senior at Mesa’s Westwood High School said a reading program in elementary school sparked a competitive nature that remains today.
That drive, has led to her being named one of the East Valley Tribune’s All-Tribune Scholars this year.
For each of the years she was at Mesa’s Emerson Elementary School, Lopez was the school’s top point-getter for Accelerated Reader, which rewards students for reading books and answering questions about them.
A few years earlier, she couldn’t even read English. She and her family immigrated from Mexico when she was in kindergarten.
Lopez said she remembers teachers back then saying “Zamantha is a good student. She just needs to learn the vocabulary.”
So that’s what she set out to do.
Lopez will graduate from Westwood’s International Baccalaureate program at the end of the month. She received the Presidential Scholarship from St. Mary’s College in Indiana, which will give her $15,000 a year.
She found St. Mary’s while researching civil engineering programs that also provide a liberal arts environment. She wants to major in civil engineering and plans to open her own company.
Westwood counselor Yvette Rangel has no doubt Lopez will succeed.
“I think there’s no limit. This girl will do whatever she sets her mind to,” Rangel said.
Lopez said her parents encouraged her early on, telling Lopez and her two younger sisters, “No matter what, nobody can take education away from you.”
“I knew if I worked hard in every situation, when an opportunity came up I would be ready for it,” Lopez said.
Lopez said one reason she hopes to own her own company one day is to “be in control” and available for community involvement.
Her inspiration comes from her time with the Musica Mariachi programs and as a counselor with a summer leadership program. Lopez started playing violin with the group when she was 9 years old. Today, she still plays as part of an all-female Mariachi group in Scottsdale.
What she takes from high school, she said, is the ability to plan and focus.
“I think that’s helped me the most to understand what might come up,” she said. “It’s given me great study skills because the IB deadlines are real deadlines.”
Her interest in civil engineering got piqued during physics classes.
“I’ve always had the notion to do it. I want to know ‘How do they get this to stand up or keep up the roads?’” she said. “Bridges fall in the U.S. and I want to know, ‘why?’”
And though it’s going to take her to the Midwest, and away from home, Lopez said her family is more than supportive.
“I’m the first one to go to college, even among my cousins,” she said.
When she told her parents she was looking out of state, she said her mom’s response was, “I’m going to cry now, but I know you deserve this experience.”
School: Westwood High School, Mesa Unified School District
Parents: Maria and Rito Lopez
Honors and awards: valedictorian, Mesa Latino Town Hall Student of the Year, Mesa Rotary Club Student of the Month, Westwood Hispanic Scholar, Presidential Scholarship from St. Mary’s College, Model UN High School Competition/Diplomacy Award