Aspiring educator returns to VC after eight-year absence, earns $1,000 scholarship in essay contest

Michelle Nicole-Lopez

After becoming a mother while in high school, Michelle Nicole-Lopez is determined to be part of the two percent.

“I read that 98 percent of teen moms are not able to get a college degree by the time they’re 30 years old,” she said. “I wanted to better myself, so I knew that I needed to go back to school. Education is one of the best things you can have because it opens up so many doors and opportunities."

“I am in the BRIDGE Program at Victoria ISD. Even though I don’t have a bachelor’s degree, I will teach seventh-grade social studies with another teacher or an aide, starting in August. My goal is to become a teacher for a couple of years, then work elsewhere in the district.”

Lopez is well on her way to beating the odds. She wrapped up her freshman year at Victoria College in May. She also earned a $1,000 scholarship as one of four winners in VC’s “What's Your Story?” essay contest.

“I started at VC straight out of high school thinking it was going to be easy, but I had a lot of external conflicts,” she said. “I was single and taking care of my daughter. I ended up dropping out. Eight years later, I was ready to go back to school. I wanted to do it for myself and for my kids.

“My first year back was great. It went way better than I was anticipating. My first semester, I made all A’s and B’s. Then, I made the Dean’s List last semester. The environment at VC is encouraging, and they want people to succeed. It helped me a lot to realize that people here at VC want to help.”

Lopez said that one of her teachers, Jennifer Carrasco, was especially important to making her return to higher education successful.

 “She made everything so fun,” she said. “Her teaching was intriguing, and she was so easy to talk to. She encouraged me to speak more with her about any and everything.

 “She welcomed all of the questions I had because I had been out of college for eight years, and it was hard for me coming back. She was warm and inviting.”

 VC’s resources were also invaluable to Lopez as she attended school and worked full time.

“The KEY Center staff helped with my English papers as well as history classes, and everyone gave such great input,” she said. “They did whatever they could to help me accomplish my goals and become a proficient writer in order to pass my classes. Everyone is so helpful and knowledgeable. I was there at least two times a week to get help.”

Lopez also credits her husband, Fezz, with helping her by handling household duties and taking care of her kids, Erica (10) and Josiah (6).

“He is a big reason I am able to go back to school,” she said. “He has done laundry and dishes and taken the kids to their practices. If I’m studying, he takes them out of the house for a fun activity so I can have alone time.”

Lopez plans to not only become an effective teacher, but also an advocate for teen moms who she hopes will become part of the two percent of college-degree holders before they’re 30. Once she graduates with an associate degree, she plans to continue her higher education journey all the way to a doctoral degree.

“When I was a kid, I fell between the cracks,” she said. “I felt invisible to my teachers. I could have had more resources and more help.

“I want to be one of those teachers who recognizes kids who aren’t star students, believes in these kids and encourages them. I also want to help the young ladies going through what I went through better themselves.”