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Graduate's zest for life takes him down many paths

May 06, 2010

According to Mario Zamora, biomedical engineering is all about breaking barriers – a theme that appears to thread together his varied life experiences that include playing semi-professional baseball to learning Chinese to coming close to singing for the Houston Grand Opera.

Zamora, who is set to graduate May 13 from ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, has tenaciously followed his passions wherever they beckon him, including ASU.

The impressive undergraduate left his hometown of Houston to attend ASU on a full-ride scholarship. Although Zamora comes from a family of medicine, ASU’s nationally competitive biomedical engineering program was new territory.

“I found it intriguing,” Zamora said. “In medicine you have doctors who interface with patients, and the function of medicine is to push the limits with all available resources for treatment. It’s the job of the biomedical engineer to give a resource such that that limit is treatment.”

Part of the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, the program has helped him engage in such work as making medical devices for an eye surgeon in Mexico while volunteering at the Scottsdale Health Care Osborn Hospital.  He hopes to attend Columbia University to receive his master’s degree in nutrition, followed up with medical school at Baylor University in 2011. 

“Right now, I need to focus on building my skills and learning the body,” said Zamora, who finds it difficult to nail down exactly where his path will take him.

Up until now, that path has led him to civil rights activism and even a short-lived baseball career.

“What makes Mario different is his ability to understand a problem and tackle it from different perspectives,” says Tony Garcia, engineering professor at ASU and Zamora’s mentor. “He has a positive attitude about problem-solving and will devote a lot of time thinking of alternatives. He also cares a lot about people and believes in the importance of healing.”

“As a volunteer at Scottsdale Osborn special care, I greet family members of patients,” Zamora said. “It took me some time to be able to do this well. There’s a lot of fear when a loved one is in a compromised health state, and you see the weight of that experience on the visitors.

“It’s my responsibility to greet these family members, assist the visiting process such that it balances the needs of the family and the protocol that exists for the hospital. You really have to study the family member and get to know them from little exchanges and offer them support so that they, in turn, can support their loved one.”

Zamora says that singing and performing since age 7 also have helped him in his volunteer work.

“Through singing, you’re able to affect the emotions of somebody whereby the emotions become the dynamic,” says Zamora, who almost joined the Houston Grand Opera and has been called a talented vocalist by those who know him, including Garcia and the students who sing with him in the Newman Center choir. “When I would perform solo pieces, I would study the crowd. The crowd is asking you for something, which is why you train so hard because you want to deliver. It’s all relevant to engineering and medicine and, well, life in general.”

And then there’s baseball.

“I joined a semi-pro league my senior year of high school,” Zamora says. “I got to play with people who had played this sport for a lifetime, and I saw a completely different identity of the game. What I always liked about baseball was that it was simple: the way those players threw a ball, swung a bat – it was as natural as breathing. I cared about those simple qualities, but when exposed to veterans of the game, you start to see how truly complex the game was.”

Come May 13, Zamora will receive his bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering and ready himself to do, well, whatever it is he sets his mind to.