Santa Clara University

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Rhodes Scholar Noelle Lopez

Before she was a Rhodes Scholar, Noelle Lopez was a senior at Salpointe Catholic High School in Tucson, trying to figure out where to go to college.

Early in her search, she stuck about 10 Post-It notes to the pages of a magazine on the best private schools in the U.S., and set about researching them. At first, Santa Clara University was not one of them. “I thought, for some reason, there was not a lot there, not as many majors as other schools,’’ said Lopez, who at the time was thinking of double majoring in Spanish and public health, public policy or political science – “something applicable; something to make a difference.’’

Her high school coach – who was also her guidance counselor – was an SCU alum, and he urged her to check it out. Before her senior year, she came west to visit SCU and Stanford. At Stanford, she was impressed with the school’s running program and the team’s top standing, but she did not get a chance to sit down with any of the school’s coaches or attend a class.

At Santa Clara, by contrast, she sat in on a class, met the coach and team. She fell in love with the focus on social justice that was immediately obvious at SCU. “I really liked the focus on community service,’’ said Lopez, who during high school volunteered regularly for the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen and did a stint for Habitat for Humanity.

She also liked the small class sizes. “It’s just really great when you can get to know people in your class, ‘’ she said. “It makes learning not so much of a chore.’’

In the end, she rejected contenders like University of Portland (too cold for an Arizonan) and Willamette (too small) and narrowed her choice down to University of Arizona and SCU, where she had full scholarships, and Stanford, where she did not. Santa Clara, with its institutional ethical backbone, engaged student body and responsive coach, sealed the deal, she says.

Since choosing SCU, a lot has changed for Lopez. Drawn to the potential of philosophy to influence a person’s entire way of life, she decided to major in it, focusing on “virtue ethics.’’

Now, on the brink of graduating and going to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar to continue studying Philosophy, Lopez says her search is proof that going to the “best school” is a matter of personal choice -- even for those who are accepted at the nation’s most elite institutions.

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