Texas Border Business
RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas – As first-generation college students, members of the Lopez family explain how their success in education and in the workplace goes back to the creation of South Texas College in Starr County nearly 30 years ago.
All are current or former employees, students or graduates of STC, and some like the oldest of five siblings to attend STC, Miguel “Mikey” Lopez, says his story is tightly woven with the start of the college.
He was among the first group of STC graduates in 1993 following the college’s transition from Texas State Technical College and getting a certificate in Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) that year.
Now employed in the college’s maintenance department for the last 20 years, Lopez said he completed three associate degrees while at STC including HVAC, Criminal Justice and Bilingual Elementary Education before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Technology Management, now called Operations Management, in 2012. He is currently studying for his fourth associate degree in Sociology.
“Back in the old days in Starr County you were competing against only local people for a job, but now we’re competing against others outside of our region who all have the same networks and resources, so it’s very important to get a higher education in order to compete for those high-paying jobs,” Lopez said. “We have all had to grow here, but it all goes back to creating a better opportunity for the people of Starr County.”
Lopez said he inspired his two sons, Mario and Angel while his sister Blanca inspired her two daughters, Bibiana and Nicole.
“I wanted to set an example for my daughters and for my community because our culture told us from the start that we didn’t need to go to school, we just had to get married,” Blanca Lopez said. “The reality is we took the challenge as first-generation college students because our parents didn’t even graduate from high school, but STC never stopped moving forward. This meant we never stopped moving forward.”
Like her brother Mike, Blanca said the need for higher education pushed her past hardships including the death of a spouse and life as a working single parent with only a certificate in word processing, which she received from STC in 1999.
“I had my certificate, and that helped me greatly as well as opened up a lot of doors for employment, but I was always motivated to do more,” she said. “So, I went back to school and came to what was then called STCC to begin taking classes for my associate degree at this wonderful campus in 2002.”
After taking classes slowly over the years while managing a full-time job, Lopez received an associate degree as an administrative assistant in 2011, but went straight into a bachelor’s degree program – Technology Management, and graduated in 2014.
“I never gave up, and STC never gave up on me either,” she said.
Her daughter Nicole, recalls being inspired by her mother’s tenacity.
“I feel that my family has set a standard for us since we’re the younger generation, and I feel that in the long run with the degree that we get, we’re going to make it,” said Rivas, who currently works in STC’s advising department while studying for her bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership.
“It’s really inspiring for us to keep it going for the next generation of Starr County students in our family so they see what we saw with our family members who led the way,” Rivas said.
The youngest sibling, Elizabeth Lopez is currently employed as Starr County campus’ coordinator of Student Activities and credits her older brother, Mike, for leading the way.
“I think it all goes back to my brother,” she said. “We’re first-generation college students and I think he set that bar. There wasn’t a choice. As the youngest of five siblings, seeing them pursue their degree brought us all closer. We had to seize the opportunities and take advantage of what South Texas College had to offer not only for our family, but for our community as a whole.”
For more information on STC’s programs and services, visit southtexascollege.edu.