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CLC grad, special education teacher pursuing second master’s

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Dec 13, 2021

Going to college was never in Vanessa Lopez’s plans. No one in her family had attended before her, and in high school she didn’t see herself continuing her education. Now, 12 years after starting at College of Lake County (CLC), she’s working on her second master’s degree.

“I didn’t think of college as something I could do,” she said. “I struggled with math and reading. I thought college would be too hard for me."

Vanessa LopezHer high school advisor told her about CLC and helped her enroll in the fall semester in 2009. Because CLC is an affordable option, Lopez said, she was able to attend even though she came from a low-income family.

While she wasn’t yet sure what career she wanted to pursue, Lopez thought about both psychology and education. She went back and forth during her time at CLC and graduated with an associate in fine arts. When she decided she was going to transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology, her advisors at CLC helped her see what kinds of careers it could lead to, including teaching.

College wasn’t easy for Lopez, but she was thankful for the help she received at CLC, especially from the Latino Alliance and TRiO Student Support Services.

“I loved my time at CLC and continuously tell everyone they should start there,” Lopez said. “Everyone is so supportive. As a first-generation college student, I didn’t know how things worked. The support is what made it possible for me to go to school."

Lopez transferred to Northeastern University and took classes at the University Center of Lake County (UCLC) on CLC’s campus. There, she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2014.

“I was able to stay home and continue my education,” Lopez said. “I was working a job here, and it would’ve been too much to go back and forth. UCLC is an amazing opportunity for students who are unable to go away or can’t afford to."

After graduating, Lopez got a job locally in the Round Lake Area Schools District as a teacher’s assistant in a preschool special education class.

This position helped Lopez realize she wanted to work with special needs children. She decided to pursue a master’s degree in elementary education teaching, and once again took advantage of the UCLC being close to home, taking classes there with National Louis University.

“At this point I was married and had a one-year-old,” she said. “I knew if there was a teaching program at UCLC, I was going to do it.”

Following receiving her first master’s degree, Lopez got a new job within the Round Lake Area Schools District as a bilingual resource teacher. With this position, she supports Spanish-speaking special education students in their native language. Lopez, whose parents are from Mexico, grew up in a Spanish-speaking home and was an ESL student at CLC.

Lopez is currently working on a second master’s degree in early education and special education online through National Louis University. She’s also working on earning her ESL Endorsement at CLC.

“CLC made it possible for me to continue going to school,” Lopez said. “The college does more than it will ever know for students like me.”

About College of Lake County

College of Lake County is a comprehensive community college committed to equitable high-quality education, cultural enrichment and partnerships to advance the diverse communities it serves in northeastern Illinois. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, college classes are affordable and accessible to help each student achieve academic, career and personal goals. More than 70,000 students graduated with degrees and certificates since the college opened in 1969. College of Lake County is the only higher-education institution ranked among the top 15 best places to work in Illinois by Forbes and is a national leader in many areas, including sustainability and conservation.