Graduating senior Michael Lopez ('17) is not your typical mathematician.
Confident and eloquent, Lopez is a former U.S. Marine who served three tours in Iraq and a total of 10 years in the military. He worked in law enforcement for four years. He was kicked out of three high schools. He is a “nontraditional” student in that he is in his mid-thirties, married, and the father of two children.
He is no stranger to hard work, adversity and perseverance.
The youngest of five children, Lopez grew up in Santa Ana, the second most populated city in Orange County, California, and had what he describes as a “rough childhood.” Despite living in a tight-knit Hispanic community, gunshots and shootings were an inescapable part of his early life: his brother had been stabbed and father had been shot. His family left northern California for a better, safer life with more opportunities in Oregon.
When an exacerbated combat injury forced his Honorable Discharge from the military, Lopez pursued a career in law enforcement but was always attracted to teaching and training new officers.
His two passions have always been math and teaching.
At a career crossroads, Lopez considered pursuing a college education as a way to reconnect with his passion for math and to have a satisfying career where he could make an impact. Although he had never thought college was right for him, Lopez decided to take the leap and in 2009 he enrolled in Central Oregon Community College (COCC) in Bend, OR, despite having less than a 2.0 GPA in high school.
“I remember my first day so clearly,” recalled Lopez. “I was a late register and was waitlisted for this writing class. I remember standing outside the writing class, not knowing what to do. I almost decided to quit college right then before it even began.”
"But then the writing class professor, noticed me and I guess he could see my confusion and invited me into the classroom. He talked me through things and helped me navigate the process, following class. He gave me some simple and really helpful advice. He said ‘Do your homework, show up for class, do the work and you’ll be fine.’ That worked for me.”
A first-generation college student, Lopez, experienced the feelings of self-doubt, of not belonging, of thinking he had made a mistake. Nearly one-third of College of Science students are first generation students and nearly one-quarter are transfer students.
Lopez transferred to OSU-Cascades to pursue a bachelor’s degree, but when he realized they did not offer a math major, he transferred to OSU’s Corvallis campus in the winter of 2015. “There are so many more opportunities on this campus,” said Lopez.