LCC Class of 2018: Mechanical Engineering
Tenacity and resourcefulness paid off when Aaron became the first person in his family to graduate from high school.
LCC engineering student Aaron Lopez had to overcome substantial barriers to get where he is today, including homelessness, prolonged food insecurity, and delayed high school graduation due to unmet English requirements.
Raised by a single mom, Aaron and his brother did not always have enough to eat at home while they were growing up. The family relocated to Washington from Los Angeles after the cost of rent soared there. They lived in their car, then with a friend, for months until they could afford their own apartment in Longview.
Rather than keeping him from school, though, Aaron tackled the uncertainty and lack of resources with his exemplary problem-solving skills. For example, “I learned to drink a lot of water when I was hungry,” he said. The sense of fullness, however fleeting, helped him stay focused on his studies.
Gas money was sometimes an issue for the family as well. Again, Aaron chose to problem-solve rather than miss school. For instance, walking to his high school added about 45 minutes to his day, “in all kinds of weather,” he added.
Tenacity and resourcefulness certainly paid off when Aaron became the first person in his family to graduate from high school. Aaron's mother, who worked as a maid before landing a job at a meat factory to support her family, dropped out of school in the third grade. His older brother only made it to the 10th grade before choosing to leave school behind.
In spite of the lack of an educational focus in his immediate household, Aaron's commitment to school remained strong. After completing an engineering internship in high school, Aaron knew he had found his career pathway. He also knew that in order to achieve his career goal, he needed a college degree.
Aaron hoped to use traditional financial aid to pay for college. He had a lot of difficulty with the tax verification process through the IRS, however, and eventually decided not to go to school right away. In retrospect, Aaron says he wishes he had known about Running Start (a program that allows high school students to earn high school and college credits at the same time). “It could have saved me a lot of time and money,” he said.
To earn money for school, Aaron took a job cleaning an industrial facility. The thirteen hour shifts, strong chemicals, and scalding hot water eventually took their toll. After a few years, he had saved enough money to self-pay for a quarter. In addition to the tuition, fees and books, Aaron also had to invest in a backpack and laptop when he started at LCC, two items he did not own but needed in order to be successful in college.
After a quarter, Aaron’s lack of finances interfered again, and he had to stop-out. This time he was determined to find a more stable way to attend, and began researching and applying for scholarships. Aaron received the Solvay Pierre Ruell Memorial Scholarship through the LCC Foundation.
A recent trip to NASA facilities in Texas during a Hurricane Harvey Relief trip with LCC's Student Support Services program really cemented Aaron's interest in becoming an engineer. It was also his first time on an airplane.
Aaron is planning to graduate with an associate degree in engineering in June, then transfer to Gonzaga University, Washington State University-Pullman, or the University of Washington. Ultimately, he hopes to work as a mechanical engineer.
“The most important thing to me is that I'm a good role model. I want to be able to take care of my mom. My becoming an engineer is really making my family proud,”
“Solvay is very proud of Aaron's accomplishments and that our LCC Foundation scholarship is helping such a bright and talented student. We know that Aaron is well on his way to achieving his dream of becoming a mechanical engineer, and are honored to have the opportunity to financially support him in achieving this goal.”
— Alicia Fuentes, Longview Site Manager, Solvay Chemicals, Inc.