When Selena Lopez earned a GED diploma from Montgomery County Community College, she thought she’d spend her life working full-time as a home health aide.
“I thought I was going to make a career out of that, until I just realized it wasn’t my passion,” the 24-year-old said. “I loved the career at first, but I just fell out of love for it. I still wanted to help people but in a different way.”
In 2019, five years after graduation, she decided it was time to go back to MCCC. This time to earn a college degree. She was recently named the recipient of the Dr. Victoria L. Bastecki-Perez Presidential Scholarship sponsored by the Scott and Susan Bentley Fund. The award is one of 11 new scholarships established by the MCCC Foundation to celebrate Dr. Bastecki-Perez’s inauguration as MCCC’s sixth president.
“It feels really good,” she said. “My boss, Amy Auwaerter (Director of Pottstown Campus Operations), told me I was nominated and I was selected and it was a shock. I couldn’t believe it. I had no clue about it until I was nominated for it. It came as a surprise for me.”
The welcome news of the scholarship, she said, will help her afford to pay for textbooks or pay some of her bills.
Lopez is studying to become a group drug and alcohol addiction counselor for young adults. She’s seeking an associate degree in Human Services, while also receiving a certificate in Addictions. The Human Services associate degree program opens doors to such opportunities as intake work, crisis intervention, consumer advocacy, residential counseling and more. Students can pursue a concentration in Addictions, Gerontology or Children, Youth and Family Services.
“I wanted to pursue a career in social work but changed my mind since I’ve been here. I want a group counseling career now,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in wanting to work with people and help people. That’s why I went into that field.”
Lopez, now in her second year at MCCC, said her goal is to walk at Commencement in 2023, before transferring to a four-year institution to earn a bachelor’s degree in Human Services. She chose to focus on drugs and alcohol addiction counseling for personal reasons.
“I have family members who’ve dealt with addiction and so the problem hits home for me,” she said. “I want to help people who are also dealing with it. Especially young adults.”
The Pottstown resident is currently a federal work-study student. The work-study program offers students a way to earn money for their educational expense by taking an on-campus job. When she’s not in the classroom, Lopez can be found on Pottstown Campus scheduling student appointments in the Student Services Resource Center (SSRC) which helps students register for classes, make online payments and change their program of study, among other things.
“The experience has been great,” said Lopez on going back to school. “It’s been hard at times since I got my GED a long time ago. It’s been rough, but I get support from my coworkers, who’ve helped me and motivated me. They’ve helped my self-esteem. It’s been rocky but worth it.”
Making the decision to go back to school wasn’t easy but Lopez said it was the only option if she wanted to get ahead in life. When she completes her program, she’ll be a first-generation college graduate.
“I think I figured jumping from job to job wasn’t the way,” she said. “As a young adult, I need a degree to excel in the world. So that started my process. That’s where the work-study came in to be able to work at the College as well. When you’re becoming an adult and you don’t naturally come to college from high school, but instead work for a few years job to job, a light bulb goes on in your head. Maybe you need to go to trade school or get a degree. I needed to find my passion.”
Outside of school, Lopez is focused on her growing family. She became a first-time mom to her daughter, Romina, on New Year's Eve 2020.
“She’s just starting to try to walk. She’s fast crawling right now,” Lopez said with a laugh. “She’s definitely daddy’s girl.”
Romina was born premature, adding a new worry to an already challenging year and a half for Lopez.
“Spring semester ’21 was a lot for me. It started with Romina as a premie and I was juggling three classes at the same time. I passed two classes,” she said. “2020 was difficult for me, too. I did not like going virtual. I loved being on campus. It was lot for me and I was pregnant.”
After taking summer 2021 off from school, Lopez said knowing Romina is healthy, she feels recharged and ready to continue working toward her academic goals, including graduating on time.
“My last class should be in the fall of 2022 and I’ll probably walk in 2023,” she said. “I’m super excited about that. I’m going for double classes right now with my associate’s degree and the certificate. Double classes means double the work. So I have a lot going on right now. I’m excited. I’m ready for it. It’s a lot.”
Established in 1983, the MCCC Foundation provides scholarships for deserving students, grants for faculty projects, equipment and technology, emergency funds for students in need, support for cultural enrichment activities on campus, financial resources for other college programs and activities. During the 2020-2021 school year, the MCCC Foundation awarded 447 scholarships to students.