Senior Spring: Heather Zezzo ’17 finds a home at Thayer and on the field
On a cold, rainy Hanover Sunday in October 2015, the Dartmouth field hockey team found itself up 3-2 over Columbia University as the second-half clock ticked away. With two and a half minutes to go, a Dartmouth midfielder entered the left side of Columbia’s half-circle with the ball and a full head of steam. The player fired a pass toward the far post where no teammate could be found.
Appearing as if out of thin air, another Dartmouth player in a black uniform dove across the turf toward the far post, her outstretched stick connecting with the ball and sending it into the low corner of the net. Heather Zezzo ’17 had sprinted 100 meters, left multiple defenders in the dust and iced Dartmouth’s win.
For those who have gotten to know Zezzo, her goal against Columbia is cliché. An all-out sprint to reach that pass seems a lot like running back and forth between Floren Varsity House and Thayer School of Engineering, where Zezzo will receive her bachelor of engineering in environmental engineering after just four years of courses. She has balanced the commitments of a Division I college athlete with Dartmouth’s most advanced engineering courses, and many have taken notice. But she doesn’t attract teammates and fellow students just because she’s a friendly face they encounter in Floren or Thayer or during the Chinese tutoring sessions she hosts. They have also come to realize the tremendous effort she puts into all she does.
So what’s behind the scholar-athlete who seems to do it all?
Zezzo’s upbringing is unique. Born in China’s Hunan province, she was raised by a single mother in Buck’s County, Pennsylvania who was an avid athlete herself.
“My mom has had such a tremendous influence on who I have become,” Zezzo said. “She always did so much for me growing up. All of my success and everything that I have become can all be attributed to how she raised me.”
From introducing Zezzo to field hockey when she was in second grade to driving the long miles to recruiting showcases, Suzie Zezzo was there for everything.
“I know that I will never be able to repay my mom for everything she has done for me,” Zezzo said. “I think that my hard work, positive attitude and eagerness for success in everything I do has always been my way of expressing my gratitude and paying her back for everything.”
To Zezzo, engineering and athletics aren’t as far apart as they might seem.
“I cannot tell you the number of students I have had class and worked on a project with, or been a teaching assistant for have been athletes,” Zezzo said. “To know that so many varsity athletes also do engineering and are aware of how difficult that makes your student life is very comforting...I am very proud to walk out of Floren and Thayer and know that I represented Dartmouth in different ways.”
Zezzo’s experience as an engineer and an athlete, particularly as one completing a five-year program in just four, has not come without obstacles. Countless times, she’s had to rush from afternoon practice to a project meeting or TA hours at Thayer without having eaten dinner. When many students may dabble in engineering or balance their engineering classes with less rigorous supplementary courses, Zezzo is an exceptional outlier.
“My college experience has been very difficult at times, but it has taught me so much about myself,” Zezzo noted. “I have learned so much about the value of managing one’s time, hard work and motivation. I have pushed myself in more ways than I could have imagined, and I am a better person because of that.”
As she wraps up her senior spring and some of the most advanced engineering courses offered at Dartmouth, Zezzo has not forgotten about her experiences with her field hockey teammates.
“Being a student-athlete demands so much from you — time, energy, commitment — but I had teammates doing that with me. I will definitely remember chasing goals as a member of a group and all of the hard work that we put in.”
Zezzo smiles modestly when she insists that her list of personal accomplishments is not long. She would prefer to be remembered for the way she approached everything.
“I wanted to attend Dartmouth because it has that distinct ‘Ivy League’ feel to it,” Zezzo recalled. “To know that I have gotten so much out of my college experience, as tough as it was, makes me feel very proud.”