Cathy Zech, Theta Upsilon - University of La Verne

‘I Lead Because I’m a Phi Sig’

Chapter leader Cathy Zech has big plans – and nothing’s holding her back

 Cathy Zech - Theta Upsilon sister

If you want proof that the adage “life is what you make of it” is true, look no further than Phi Sigma Sigma collegian and University of La Verne student leader Catalina “Cathy” Zech, of southern California.


Named among the top 1% of students at ULV, Cathy expects to achieve great things in the future – a doctorate in psychology is not out of the question, nor is a law degree. And this rising star credits her continuing success, on campus and off, directly to her experiences since joining our sisterhood.


“If it weren’t for Phi Sigma Sigma, I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” Cathy says. “What I’ve learned by being a sister, by becoming involved with a group of women my age doing amazing things and attending our Leadership Conferences, has been invaluable to me.” Consider just a few of Cathy’s recent accomplishments:

  • Landis Leadership Scholar, one of 11 people selected from the entire ULV student body for her commitment to excellence, leadership, community service and academics
  • Archon of her award-winning chapter, Theta Upsilon – now the largest student organization on campus with nearly 60 members
  • “Emerging Leader of the Year” honoree, designated by ULV’s student life office
  • Vice president (formerly treasurer) of the local chapter of Psi Chi, the national honor society for psychology students
  • Active member of ULV’s Latin Student Forum, teaching people about her culture’s traditions and history, and
  • Educator/researcher – among a select group of students invited to co-teach a freshman college course, “The First Year Experience,” with a professor – and, in a separate project, to present new research she helped conduct on social perceptions at the prestigious Western Psychological Association’s Convention in Portland, Ore., this April.

Drawn to leadership

Despite participating in a range of activities in high school, Cathy admits it’s only in recent years – and especially since joining Phi Sig – that she’s readily understood her potential to lead and inspire others to work as a team, thereby having an even greater, more beneficial impact on the world.


Leadership Conference, Chicago 2009Some students, especially those focused on academics, might shy away from more responsibility. These days, Cathy, a junior, increasingly finds herself drawn to it.


“I love it,” she says. “It’s a lot of hard work, being the archon of our chapter, being a student leader. You’re the one people turn to; you’re the face of Phi Sigma Sigma to the university and other Greek chapters. And I’m a commuter – so I have to work with that, too.”


But she wouldn’t have it any other way, she adds. It’s helped her test her limitations. More accurately, it’s helped her identify cool new experiences she’d like to try – simply because she can, simply because they seem challenging and interesting.


“I realized at some point that not everyone can do what I do,” she explains. “Not everyone could see what needs to be done in a situation, and lead people to achieve something more. It’s a special talent Phi Sigs have – to look at a role that’s challenging, that in some cases no one else may want to do, and say, ‘I can do so many things with this!’ It’s why, since I’ve joined Phi Sig, I’ve pretty much grown in all directions, in all aspects of my life and in many of my activities.”

‘Can do’ makes the difference

If you sense an indomitable optimism in those words, you’re right – this, despite the fact that Cathy’s life hasn’t been what most people would call easy. In fact, she’s overcome obstacles unfamiliar to most of today’s college students.


An only child who grew up in a neighborhood just outside the gang-infested areas of East L.Cathy ZechA., Cathy’s parents worked hard to ensure she stayed on the right path – encouraging her to be proud of her community, her Latina culture and her potential, and to achieve her own dreams of success.


Then, in her senior year in high school, Cathy’s father, who'd been ill, suddenly passed away before she graduated. Cathy’s close-knit family was about to unravel altogether when she left home to live on campus that fall as planned. In the end, she couldn’t and wouldn’t leave her mother; she made the decision to stay home and make the daily, 40-minute commute to and from La Verne. She plans to do so until she graduates. “My mom and I are very close,” Cathy explains. “My parents were there for me when I needed them, and they went above and beyond to help me in life.”


Despite the commute, despite what others might see as obstacles, Cathy continues excelling. She's on course to earn a 4.0 for spring term in her psychology major, leading Theta Upsilon to even greater heights, and on track to be named to the Order of Omega, the Greek honor society, in the next week or so.


Cathy says that challenges are only obstacles if you think of them that way. For her, then, the opportunities to aspire, act and achieve will always abound – as they do for loyal Phi Sigma Sigma sisters everywhere.