Minnehaha Academy Blog

Where They Go: Alum Emily Zoltai Impacts and Impacted by Quito, Ecuador

Posted by Amy Barnard on Oct 25, 2018
Emily Zoltai for Blog
  • Inspired to pursue Human Physiology after her year in Mr. Monson's anatomy class.
  • Volunteered with the Range of Motion Clinic (ROMP) in Ecuador and began exploring the field of orthotics and prosthetics.
  • Completing her master's degree in the field while also continuing her connection with ROMP.

A Change in Direction

The ripple effect of Mr. Monson’s 11th grade science class was felt in Quito, Ecuador, this summer as alum Emily Zoltai ('08) and five other grad students completed the “hands on experience” portion of their clinical internship at Quito’s ROMP (Range of Motion Project) Clinic. For Zoltai this was more than just an internship opportunity.

Zoltai’s first experience at ROMP took place back in 2013 when she arrived as a volunteer. 

"In the second week, I wandered into the orthotics and prosthetics wing and [I] was surprised to recognize a lot of equipment from my step-dad’s wood working shop. I was curious! What were routers, sanders, and band saws doing in a hospital? With broken Spanish, I asked if there was anything I could do to help.”

“Without wasting a minute, one of the practitioners showed me how to cut trim lines on a lower limb orthotic (something that fits the ankle or foot), and then how to sand the orthotic until it was smooth. I immediately liked the work, because it felt like a combination of art and science. I started spending more and more time in the orthotics and prosthetics lab. I was hooked.”

We Can Do So Much More

This experience sparked a course-change, shifting her to the field of orthotics and prosthetics but also instilling in her the belief that she could take steps to impact the wider world.

“We can do so much more. If we put our brains together we can find ways to get the resources that people need,” she says.

To that end, Zoltai coordinates an annual fundraiser for ROMP. She also organized and led the trip of grad students that went to work at the clinic this summer.

The Roots Make the Tree

But what does all of this have to do with Mr. Monson?

“I had Mr. Monson as an anatomy teacher and he brought creativity and joy to the subject and it quickly became my favorite,” she says. “I loved how tactile it was and that it had a purpose. He even had us re-write a Christmas song to talk about anatomy.”

This came after an somewhat tentative beginning at MA. Because she transferred to Minnehaha Academy as a tenth grader, Zoltai had felt some trepidation: Would she be able to find her place so late in the game?

The answer was a resounding yes.

“I made some amazing friends–joined cross country running and French club and had a great homeroom. The rest is history!”

Finding Her Niche

From the seeds planted in high school, Zoltai moved on to her “official” journey in the sciences with a degree in Human Physiology and Special Education from the University of Oregon, and today she is finishing up her master’s degree in orthotics and prosthetics while working as a prosthetic assistant in Denver, CO.

"I am continually floored by people kindness and resourcefulness in the field of o and p," she shares. "It is so fun to be in a profession of part art, part science, and to be intellectually and artistically challenged every day." 

Zoltai’s passion and hard work is paying off: her supervisor in Colorado is actually the same man who started Range of Motion Project (ROMP) many years ago.

“I will get to work with children, adults and animals and also learn more about scanning and 3D printing,” Zoltai shares. “Full circle indeed!”

Zoltai recently announced her engagement to Joel Lopez. The two are pictured above.

Topics: Alumni Stories

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