Tucked away in a back corner of the Heritage University library, two freshmen sit side by side, heads bent over open books as they diligently work on their English homework. Seeing them quietly whisper back and forth wouldn’t normally be all that remarkable — except this time the two share more than an English class. They are mother and son, working together and supporting each other in their individual pursuits of a shared dream to earn a college degree.
Maria Rosario and Arturo Lopez were two of the 270 new undergraduate students who enrolled as freshmen this fall at Heritage University. Rosario is pursuing a degree in Medical Laboratory Science and Lopez is working toward his degree in Criminal Justice.
“I am so excited to be here,” Rosario said. “College has been my dream for 20, 30 years, and now it’s becoming a reality.”
The duo’s path to Heritage began back in 2010 when Rosario moved her family to the Yakima Valley from California. She enrolled in Heritage’s High School Equivalency Program (HEP) and earned her GED a year later. From there, she took a few community college courses, but, with a teenage son at home, Rosario set aside college in order to work and raise her boy.
It wasn’t until five years later, when Lopez was a senior at Eagle High School in Toppenish, that the thought of enrolling in college surfaced again — but this time it was for both mother and son. The two had learned about the extensive scholarship opportunities available to them at Heritage as well as the university’s Fast Track program, which helps students build their proficiency in math and English before they enroll in credit-bearing courses.
Lopez explained, “At first, I thought I wanted to start working right away, but I realized how much harder it would be to go back to school someday while also working full-time, so I decided not to put it off.”
From there, an idea was born. Mother and son would attend Heritage University together, pursuing their own majors with the same goal set in their sights — a college degree.
In the beginning, Lopez was set on earning his Criminal Justice degree to become a police officer, but his path has shifted slightly. Now he is working toward a career in crime scene investigation and hopes to join the FBI one day.
“I’ve always wanted to help people,” Lopez said. “And I really like the puzzle pieces of a crime scene. I find that I’m very aware of details and notice things that others pass by. I think that will serve me well in my career.”
Rosario clearly sees her future career in health care. Her long fascination with the field led her to major in Medical Laboratory Science.
“I want to be in the health care environment,” she said. “I like the high-energy atmosphere and I get a lot of joy out of helping others.”
At the beginning of fall semester, the logistics of juggling full course loads along with keeping full- and part-time jobs(not to mention studying, eating and sleeping) was an organizational feat, but the two now have it down to a science.
Rosario holds down two jobs at local grocery stores to support her family. As the two drive between campus, home and work, they adjust their schedules to accommodate each other’s needs. Much of their study time is spent on campus; the library has become the favorite study spot for them both.
While time is tight and the back and forth stressful, Rosario claims it also has its perks. “One of the best parts of this experience so far is getting to know my son in a new way,” she said. “[Studying] is some of our best time together, even though we are always running, running.”
For Lopez, having his mom on campus and in classes is a source of pride and inspiration.
“I feel really proud of my mom,” Lopez said. “She works very hard and this is something she has always wanted. I’m glad to watch her dream come true.”
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