A Mighty Heart

Phoenix scholarship recipient heads off to NAU

Phoenix scholarship recipient heads off to NAU

Shoot for the stars. Dream Big. And do it with all your heart.

These inspirational sentiments are far more than just cliché advice for soon-to-be Northern Arizona University freshman Samantha Espinoza.

By Laura Latzko, July 31, 2014.

Shoot for the stars. Dream Big. And do it with all your heart.

These inspirational sentiments are far more than just cliché advice for soon-to-be Northern Arizona University freshman Samantha Espinoza.

Born with congenital heart disease, Espinoza says her health issues have posed more of a challenge than her academic studies. In school — and life — she excelled, despite doctors telling her mother she wasn’t going to live past childhood.

“They said I wasn’t going to make it past 7 or 8,” the 18-year-old graduate of Bioscience High School in Phoenix said. “It has been my motivation. You have to take it upon yourself to make the best of it while you can. I took it upon myself to be super awesome in school.”

And her good grades and effort have paid off. In June, Espinoza was awarded a scholarship of over $10,000 from the Phoenix Pride Scholarship Program to help pay for college.

Living Without Limits

Espinoza said she’s always had an interest in computers, and fixed her first computer at age 8. And, because her health prevented her from playing sports as much as she would have liked, computers were a welcomed interest.

While attending high school Espinoza took accelerated classes with math and science focus and got involved in all of the clubs she could. She also helped to start the e-tech and 1080 engineering clubs at her school.

“I’m one of those people that if I get a project with a group of people, I will take the lead,” Espinoza said.

Her junior year, she helped program an interface for a solar charging station, which only generated more interest in the field of computer engineering. Then, as part of an internship at Carl Hayden Community High School, she learned computer design, wiring, reimaging, networking, software and graphic design.

“I was able to work hand-in-hand with everything,” Espinoza said. “It solidified for me what field I wanted to go into.”

Giving Back to her Community

Espinoza, who came out as lesbian just before her freshman year of high school, also completed an internship with one n ten, that allowed her to use her computer skills to help Q High to set up a server. She also learned more about LGBT youth communities as an activities moderator.

“I’m an introvert at heart,” she said. “I’d rather have a place where I fit in rather than be dropped in the middle of campus with a lot of people.”

She also became more involved in the LGBT community through her school’s club, where she worked to help educate people in the community about LGBT organizations.

Against the Odds

Despite finding acceptance after coming out, making honor roll all four years and finding her niche with computers, not all aspects of life came easy for Espinoza.

The most challenging event for herwas when her brother Johnny died, which caused her to miss a month and a half of school during her freshman year.

“I had to bounce back from that,” she said. “It was hard to raise my GPA up and get my grades back up. I was failing some of my classes.”

Not only did she get her grades back up, her school counselors also presented her with a special “Johnny would be proud of you” award — one of her proudest moments.

In August, she will leave Phoenix for Flagstaff and become the first child in her family to attend college.

“I have a lot of pressure on my shoulders to succeed. I don’t want to let my family down,” Espinoza said.

Although Espinoza’s mother and stepfather plan to help her as much as they can financially, they still have three children living in at home.

“My mom is an independent woman,” she said, “she stresses herself out about me going to college.”

Being the natural leader that she is, Espinoza found out about the Phoenix Pride Scholarships and got her application in just before the deadline. And it paid off.

In just a few weeks Espinoza will begin classes in NAU’s computer engineering program, putting her one step closer to her dream of making her mark in the world through computers.