Incoming student brings open mind, can-do spirit
September 4, 2012
By: Valerie Finholm

news-Lobato_large.jpgAs part of her busy schedule, incoming student Samantha Lobato volunteers at Project VOYCE at Denver’s Career Education Center Middle College. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

As a child, Samantha Lobato struggled with shyness and anxiety over her appearance.

"I was really unsure of myself,'' says Lobato, whose right arm was amputated at birth. "If we had an activity at school that involved using two hands, I would always be thinking, 'How am I going to do this?' I was constantly in my head trying to figure out solutions."

Then she met her third-grade teacher, Nina Diaz, at Denver's Centennial ECE-8 School. Diaz introduced Lobato to her sister — an accomplished woman who has only one arm.

"That moment was really life-changing," says Lobato, who was awarded a Daniels Fund Scholarship to attend the University of Denver starting this fall. "I had mentally prepared myself never to be accepted. But she offered a new hope."

"Mrs. Diaz helped me realize that a disability is physical; ability is in the mind,'' says Lobato, who is from southwest Denver. "That's when I started focusing on school instead of focusing on the negative stuff. From then on I was on the honor roll every semester."

Diaz was one of many Denver public school teachers that Lobato credits with changing her life.

"I've had a lot of amazing teachers,'' she says. "Each individual teacher helped me in a different way."

Another teacher at Centennial, Clay Stewart, taught Lobato's Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) class.

"He really opened my eyes about going to college," says Lobato, who is the daughter of a dental assistant and a construction worker. Lobato is the first person in her family to graduate from high school and go to college.

Stewart, who coached the school's soccer team, also encouraged Lobato to join the team.

"Mr. Stewart really pushed me to see past my own self-imposed limitations,'' Lobato says. "I had never thought about sports. He really challenged me. I took it and ran with it — and I loved soccer."

She says soccer helped her learn to become a team player.

"Before that I was very individual-oriented ... me, me, me,'' she says.

Lobato's science teacher at Centennial, Nancy Benedict, encouraged her to keep an open mind about taking advantage of educational opportunities.

"She taught me that you don't always have to have a concrete plan and stick to it no matter what," Lobato says.

Lobato says she heard about the Daniels Fund Scholarship Program during her first year at CEC Middle College from her high school counselor, Mary Abbott.

Abbott norminated Lobato for a Daniels Scholarship and for the Mayor's Youth Award, which Lobato also won in 2012.

"She's not just about academics. She's about giving back to the community and making every place around her better," Abbott says of Lobato.

Lobato is one of 21 first-year Daniels Scholars from Colorado who will attend DU in the fall, says Laura Steffen, senior scholarship relations officer for the Daniels Fund. Scholarship recipients are selected based on character, service and leadership.

Lobato says she already knows what she wants to do with her college degree.

"I want to be a teacher," she says. "A high school secondary education teacher in math or science."

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