Syracuse University Magazine

Heart and Dedication


Zoe Guzman

Zoe Guzman ’13 credits her mother for encouraging her to play on the SU volleyball team and pursue her dream of being a medical doctor. It was her mom, after all, who told her nothing can hold her back but herself. “My mom is a well-educated woman, and her commitment to health definitely transfers to me,” says Guzman, a double major in anthropology and forensic science in the College of Arts and Sciences who grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “It affects me in a good way and lets me pursue my career as a doctor.” 

As a defensive specialist, Guzman racked up 273 digs in her Orange volleyball career. But the success didn’t come easy. Not recruited for the team, she practiced faithfully and went through an extended try-out period in her first year, dedicating herself to training and improving her skills. The perseverance paid off. As a sophomore, she was awarded an athletic scholarship and made her debut on the court, becoming one of only a couple Hispanic players in the team’s history. Throughout the year, Guzman regularly got up at 5:45 a.m., began to work out at 6:15 a.m., and went to class at 9 a.m. The intense training and extensive schoolwork made her a strong, well-organized, independent young woman. “I have my schedule laid out,” says Guzman, a two-time Puerto Rico High School Athletic Association All-Star selection. “You either organize yourself, or you can’t achieve anything.” 

Guzman also made the adjustment to working with two different head coaches and their assistants, believing it helped her develop into a versatile player and acquire lifelong skills. “I can work under pressure and think critically in a stressful situation,” she says. “I don’t think it is what everyone can do. Life never always goes as what we planned.” Guzman enjoyed the team’s international diversity as well, saying it helped her improve her communication skills and learn how to overcome the language barriers. “We have girls from all over the world, Russia, China…whose first language is not English,” she says. “My first language is not English. It is hard to communicate, but we have to learn.” 

Even though she received an offer from a professional volleyball team back in Puerto Rico, Guzman plans to focus on her passion for medicine and gain additional clinical and research experience in a post-baccalaureate program.  She initially became interested in medicine through a biological anthropology class she took with Professor Shannon Novak. A knee injury five years ago also inspired her to do medical research on her own. “I was fascinated with how the doctors fixed my knee and how safe they made me feel throughout the whole process,” Guzman says. “I was given the opportunity to get back on the court. I want to do the same for athletes and other people as well. I want to tell them, ‘Don’t worry. I will help you out.’ I really love the feeling.”

The successful pre-med student improved her understanding of medicine through her forensic science courses, and says the classes kept her motivated to pursue a medical career. This semester, she did an independent research project on religious objection to autopsies and its effect on death investigations. The research complemented her work as an intern at the Onondaga County Medical Examiner’s Office—an experience that allowed her to observe autopsies, improve her understanding of human anatomy and pathology, and assist a forensic pathologist. “It was one of the most fulfilling medical experiences I have ever had,” she says. “Everyday I learned a lot, and this made me happy and helped me get a taste of what I will be dealing with in medical school.”  Jingnan Li 

Photo by Steve Sartori