When Life’s Detours Lead You Back to College

When Life’s Detours Lead You Back to College

In January of 2003, Karen Beltran Lopez arrived in Minnesota from Mexico at the age of nine. She didn’t know the language, was experiencing immense culture shock and was nervous to attend school. It would take more than three years of ESL courses to become fluent. Learning languages, however, quickly became a passion and after mastering reading, writing and comprehension in English, Karen Beltran Lopez began studying German, ultimately reaching a conversational level of knowledge before graduating high school.

“Learning languages is extremely useful in today’s highly diverse world,” said Lopez, who decided to focus on linguistics and philosophy in college to foment her language learning abilities. “I applied to the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and was accepted, however, at the time students like me didn’t receive any financial aid. I was considered an undocumented student and scholarship opportunities were very limited or non-existent.” Lopez was unable to find a sustainable way to fund attending the University of Minnesota.  During the next few years, she applied to several universities with the hope of finding one that matched her educational interests with financial opportunities to help make it possible.

Originally, Lopez thought a four-year school was the best match for her 3.9 GPA and competent high school transcript though affordability continued to be a barrier. She began looking at community colleges so she could complete her generals in a more cost-effective way. She also changed her major to Translation and Interpreting.  

Shifting to Community College

In 2014, Lopez began taking classes at Century College working toward a Translation and Interpreting degree. While studying, she found herself curious about technology, wondering how machine translation software was made. By 2015, Lopez had to shift her focus to working due to a lack of financial support. She stopped attending college, was once again questioning her degree choices and felt as though she was back at square one.

Fast forward to 2017, Lopez was working two jobs to support herself. One of her positions was at T-Mobile where she was first introduced to the tech scene. “I remember being curious and interested in web and mobile applications and I was looking to learn new skills in the job market,” said Lopez. “I started asking myself what direction I wanted to take in this phase of my life and then landed on information about coding boot camps at the University of Minnesota. I made a financial plan for myself and attended the coding boot camp while working.”

Software Development at Minneapolis College

Lopez was hooked on technology. She began researching educational programs and found Minneapolis College’s two-year degree in Software Development. “I’ve wanted to finish college ever since I started, but I still had to decide on a major,” said Lopez. “After taking the coding boot camp, I was offered an opportunity to work at a non-profit which helped me expand my knowledge in the IT industry, leaving an impact on my life. When the pandemic hit, the non-profit sadly closed and I fell into a depression because of all the internal and external changes in my life. Once again, I found myself reviewing my goals.”

After five months of unemployment, Lopez forged forward and landed a new job that allows her to support herself financially while attending Minneapolis College full-time.

“I am attending school fully remote, so it has been a different experience than any other time I have attended school,” said Lopez, who interacts with her peers outside of school hours through the Empowering Women in IT and Computer Clubs. “Overall, the faculty and staff have been available via e-mail, Zoom or phone and have pointed out countless resources to aid learning outside the classroom. As a full-time, student and full-time employee, it has been difficult, but I’m up for the challenge and my peers are supporting me along the way.”

The first in her family to attend college, Lopez plans to graduate in the Spring of 2024 and hopes to find a career or internship as a software developer. Her goal is to work on meaningful projects that make use of her academic and life skills.

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