Stevie Lopez beams like a proud parent when talking about her AVID students at Tulare Western High School in Tulare, California. She has been with them for the past three years, starting when they were freshmen. The AVID program (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a college readiness program that helps students develop skills they need to be successful in college. Most AVID students are aspiring first-generation college students without support to pursue college. Lopez can relate to her students because she was once an AVID student at the very same high school where she now teaches.
As a first-generation college student, Lopez’s path to a degree was not a straight line. She left Tulare to attend Fresno State University. Then, an opportunity for a softball scholarship took her to Alcorn State University in Mississippi. Degree program changes at Alcorn led her back to Fresno where she completed her bachelor degree.
Back home in Tulare, Lopez worked at the front desk of a hotel while substitute teaching in elementary schools on the side. Both jobs made her realize that the hospitality industry and elementary education were not where she was meant to be. Encouraged by a colleague, Lopez went back to school at Brandman University to get her single-subject teaching credential and Master of Arts in Teaching to begin teaching at the high school level. Lopez graduated this May and participated in the Visalia commencement ceremony with some of her AVID students looking on.
How did going back to school help you and your career?
There are definite financial advantages to getting a master’s degree. You have the ability to max out on the pay scale. Initially, this was a motivator for me, but once I got into my master’s program and saw how I could apply what I was learning in my classroom, it wasn’t about the money so much. I had my most successful school year in 2016 during the last year of my program. I could directly see the benefit of what I was learning for my students.
Who inspired you while attending Brandman?
One of my colleagues, Krishna Adams, encouraged me to pursue my single subject credential so that I could teach at the high school level. It was her encouragement that pushed me to go back to school.
My academic advisor Jonathan Brooks was a great support system. He was my advisor throughout my master’s program and he took the time to learn about me personally so we could make the best schedule to accommodate my life.
My parents have been a constant source of inspiration. I am a first-generation college student. My parents have always shown me how to work hard whether it was working in the fields, as a truck driver or at the local grocery store. They inspired me to work hard and do more.
What advice would you give someone going back to school as an adult?
That it is never too late! No matter how many obstacles are in the way, it is never too late. I was 25 without a stable career but I kept moving toward my dream. We are given our own paths for a reason. I now get to inspire kids every day. I can be a supporter and motivator for students who don’t have that in their lives.
Did anything surprise you about Brandman University?
The workload surprised me. I had to remind myself that I am in graduate school. I can’t miss a class and I have to put in the work. Initially, it was more work than expected.
What would you have done differently?
Nothing really, because I think I kind of figured it out. By the time I got to grad school, I had a plan. I had to juggle work, school and personal life. It was tough to manage my time, but I don’t think I could have done anything different to make my experience any more enjoyable.
What motivated you while going back to school?
My students motivated me while I finished school. I reminded my students that I was in school, too. I wanted them to know I was in the same boat. At graduation, many of my AVID students came to cheer me on, which was so rewarding to me.
Lopez recently won two tickets to the Alumni San Diego Padres game by entering a contest on the Brandman Facebook page. Lopez was the attendee that came the farthest driving five hours in each direction from Visalia to San Diego. When asked what made her want to make the trek to the game she shared, “the opportunity to watch baseball since I’m finally done with school and have time to live life! I told myself when I was done with school I was going to start to travel more so why not start with a free baseball game! Also, I was able to check that off my bucket list of California baseball stadiums to visit.”