It’s amazing what great grades, killer essay writing skills and a lot of determination can get you.
Just ask Amy Lopez Rivera.
The University of Redlands senior won the Gates Millennium Scholarship from the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, which is paying her college tuition and will continue to do so through the graduate level at any university she chooses. The scholarship goes to only 1,000 minority students annually in the U.S., and the application process involves having a 3.3–4.0 GPA and convincing the organization that you’re the most deserving by writing a slew—eight, in her case—of persuasive essays.
Not bad for a girl who grew up on Skid Row.
She wasn’t homeless, but she lived with her parents and three brothers in that infamous neighborhood in Los Angeles where gang violence, crime and drug use were rife, Amy recalled. “It wasn’t a great environment to grow up in,” she said.
Her parents had it hard too. Her father had been a veterinarian in El Salvador and her mother had a business degree, but neither of those transferred when they fled their country amid a violent civil war. When they landed in the U.S., her father took various jobs: janitor, security guard, truck driver. “It was tough for us… he was working three jobs and it didn’t meet the necessities we had to pay,” she said.
Amy said her parents showed them endless love, but neither had much time to groom the children for college. “I didn’t have any positive (college-going) mentor in LA, and I wish I had,” she said.
As she and her brothers reached high school age, the family moved to Fontana where the schools were better and crime wasn’t such a concern. It was at Amy’s school, Henry J. Kaiser High, that she heard about University of Redlands and decided to take a tour.
“I really like a tight-knit community where you can get to know your professors,” she said. “It really felt like home… I didn’t want to be just a number.”
The relationships she has formed at Redlands have carried her through the challenges of college life—a life that became much more challenging in the semester before her graduation. She was in a serious traffic collision that broke her hand and femur.
When Amy was forced to take a leave of absence, she was worried about how it would affect her academics. To her relief, her professors worked with her—professors Ben Aronson and Linda Silveira even visited her in the hospital. “They went above and beyond,” she said. “It made me feel a lot better.”
Now she’s back on her feet—though a little sore sometimes—and ready to walk across the stage at the Alumni Greek Theatre to claim her degree. After that, Amy’s going straight to Loma Linda University where she’s been accepted into the master’s program for public health.
After getting her master's, she plans to go to medical school in hopes of becoming a physician. Ultimately, she wants to work in a clinic in her former home, downtown LA, treating those who cannot afford it, she said.