"Where's the math tutor?"
At a table inside the San Jacinto College Student Success Center, Anthony Zambrano lifted his head from his Calculus III textbook. The tutoring center assistant pointed at him, and the student who had asked the question started.
"Oh, my gosh! I thought he was a high school kid."
Truth be told, Zambrano was still in high school, tutoring students up to five decades older.
Today — polite, quiet, but well-spoken — the La Porte High School valedictorian and National Merit Scholar shows maturity far beyond his 18 years. With a San Jac associate degree and full-ride scholarship to Texas A&M University, he is also making fast strides toward an electrical engineering career.
Zambrano credits his career inspiration to his dad, a former Air Force plane technician and NASA pyrotechnic who worked alongside engineers.
"With my dad pointing me in the right direction, I got to be a part of programs and events that allowed me to see what electrical engineering was more about," he said. "Those opportunities only served to make my desire for the career even greater."
The summer after his sophomore year, Zambrano began attending San Jac as an accelerated dual credit student. The first in his family to attend college, he welcomed the chance to get ahead at San Jac while easing his parents' financial load.
An even bigger perk was the training ground for a university. Already a top student, Zambrano stepped up his study skills even more. Each syllabus was different, and so was each professor's expectations.
Some professors shared all he needed to know during their class lectures. Others expected him to have mastered the textbook chapters before class. In scouting lingo, Zambrano had to be prepared.
"It made me into a better student," he said. "I had to know how to use textbooks and resources."
Of course, another San Jac perk was that college credits boosted his GPA, and with a 5.9 GPA, he easily snagged the valedictorian seat.
Although pursuing a general studies degree to transfer, Zambrano took advanced math classes to prepare for engineering. Other students tapped him when they had questions, piquing math professor Sharon Sledge's curiosity.
"I started calling on him and checking on him during class, and he did know the answers," Sledge said.
Zambrano strived to earn good grades and understand the concepts backward and forward.
"I have seen him grow into a leadership role," Sledge said. "He's still humble and reserved, but he's willing to help others and offer very good suggestions for problem solving."
Best of all, he got to troubleshoot, rewire, and resolder a life-size BB-8 droid.
"I want to become an engineer, and I got to put it into action," he said.
This fall, Zambrano is laser-focused on excelling at Texas A&M. But don't think he's all work and no play.
He is eyeing a Formula 1 racing club and playing double bass for A&M's orchestra. Running and fishing are also part of his "arsenal of hobbies."
The secret to his success? Beyond his parents, who are his biggest supporters, he points to his single-minded focus.
"Life has lots of hiccups," he said. "Keeping your focus, not procrastinating, and knowing what you want to accomplish can take you far."