TSTC candidate for graduation eager to educate people about safety

(WACO, Texas) – For Mary Lopez, attending Texas State Technical College is a family effort.

Not only did Lopez’s education mean a move from Combes in Cameron County to on-campus housing in Waco, but it also involves her family keeping her on schedule with assignments and helping her study.

“My family has really stepped up to the plate in supporting me in this opportunity given to us,” Lopez said. “If it was not for them being team players, I do not think we would all be succeeding as we are right now.”

Lopez is an associate degree candidate for graduation in the Occupational Safety Compliance Technology program at TSTC. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, TSTC will honor graduates with a virtual graduation celebration on Thursday, April 22.

“She always strives for excellence in all of her schoolwork and makes certain her kids do the same,” said Mark Wilfert, lead instructor in TSTC’s Occupational Safety Compliance Technology program. “It is a pleasure having her in class, and I know she will be excellent in her future endeavors.”

There were several things Lopez enjoyed about the program, from hosting a study group for classmates to hands-on labs using equipment to determine gases in the air. She also learned about the different kinds of personal protection equipment. During her time in the program, she developed an interest in manufacturing.

“I like order and consistency,” Lopez said. “In a manufacturing facility, it is the same routine over and over. You know what to expect and what will happen, and nothing changes.”

Lopez grew up in Laguna Heights, near Port Isabel in Cameron County. She said her childhood was a time of protectiveness, with much time spent with her siblings.

Lopez graduated from Port Isabel High School and then joined the U.S. Army, where she was a generator mechanic.

“It (the military) taught me discipline and structure,” she said. “It taught me not to leave anyone behind. If I see someone struggling, it kicks in for me to help. The mission is to not stop until you finish.”

When she left the military, Lopez said she had a challenging time finding a job that suited her. She reached out to an education and career counselor at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for guidance. She learned about Occupational Safety Compliance Technology and that it was offered at TSTC’s Waco campus.

“(TSTC is) giving me a second chance at a career in my life to where I can feel I am contributing to my community and be a role model to my children that involves more than being a housewife,” Lopez said.

This summer, Lopez will begin taking classes to earn the Associate of Applied Science degree in Environmental Technology – Compliance at TSTC. In the future, she wants to gain experience in the manufacturing field and teach at TSTC.

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to tstc.edu.