Once a TRIO student, Vicky López Sánchez now leads program
“It was the first time anybody talked to us about college,” López Sánchez recalled of a visit in 1991 by a recruiter for the Oregon State University Educational Opportunities and College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP). “She told our Hispanic club, ‘You guys can go to college.’ She made an impact on me and my friends. We were inspired and grateful.”
That experience marked an important change in López Sánchez’s life, one that had not been steered toward higher education.
When she was 3, her parents immigrated from Mexico to California, eventually settling in Oregon’s rural Washington County to work the fields and canneries. López Sánchez spoke no English when she began her formal education and constantly would be pulled out of class to get language tutoring. Harder still was math, her most challenging subject.
“With a migrant background, I worked in the fields picking everything from strawberries to corn and cucumbers,” she remembered. “In school, I didn’t understand what I needed to do to get into college. My high school counselor asked me why I wanted to take Algebra II; that I was just going to end up barefoot and pregnant anyway so why even bother. She would constantly dissuade me from applying to college.”
That visit by the CAMP recruiter inspired López Sánchez to refocus and boost her grade-point average, enroll in more rigorous classes, and target colleges after graduation. Her hard work was rewarded with a scholarship to attend Portland State University as a TRIO student. And that experience led to a lifelong passion for TRIO, which is a handful of U.S. federal programs designed to increase access to higher education for economically disadvantaged students.
“I understood then the amount of hard work I needed to do in order to get my grades up so that I could attend college,” said López Sánchez. “I didn’t want to be out in the elements working in the fields anymore, enduring the heat and cold. My parents, Salvador and Virginia, worked hard and instilled in us (their children) that with a strong work ethic, things could be better for us.”
Her tenacity has paid off. López Sánchez serves as the Rock Creek Campus’ TRIO Talent Search Program director, and has recently been named president-elect of the Northwest Association of Educational Opportunity Programs (NAEOP) Region 10 (Pacific Northwest) for 2016-17. This organization provides support to TRIO students, giings them educational opportunities they normally wouldn’t receive so they can reach their full potential.
From a work-study office assistant and student peer advisor to instructor, coordinator and assistant director at Portland State University, and now at PCC, López Sánchez has worked in TRIO for more than 18 years.
“People who work in TRIO tend to be lifers,” she said.
Making a Difference
At Rock Creek, López Sánchez oversees the TRIO Talent Search Program which targets low-income, first-generation students in middle and high school, and provides them with college and career exploration, academic support, internship opportunities and pathways to post-baccalaureate programs. Sixty-three percent of the students in her program are Latino and are recruited from Meadow Park, Mountain View and South Meadows middle schools, and Aloha, Beaverton and Hillsboro high schools.
López Sánchez and her two advisors demystify the path to college for students by providing comprehensive program support from middle school to college. Regular field trips to Providence St. Vincent Medical Center to observe heart surgeries is a great example of how TRIO exposes students to career paths and academic disciplines that they may not be aware of or see as possible for themselves.
“Low-income students need standardized test prep to provide an academic leveling experience to that of their high-income peers,” said López Sánchez. “We’re creating a drive for that student and sparking their interests.
“In TRIO, a lot of us are former students with similar backgrounds,” she said. “TRIO not only helps get the student out of poverty, but it impacts their entire family. In my family, I was the first to graduate from high school, attend college, earn a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s. This created a path for my younger siblings to pursue their academic goals and reach for their dreams. If you can impact one person, you can impact their family and their friends.”
Another way that López Sánchez serves as a role model for others is through her community involvement. In addition to being named president-elect of NAEOP Region 10, she serves on Leadership Beaverton, the Oregon TRIO Association board, the Centro Cultural board and PCC’s Men of Color task force, and is co-chair of NAEOP’s Emerging Leaders Institute.
Working with an Old Friend
If it weren’t for that inspiration to attend college provided by the OSU CAMP recruiter 25 years ago, she doesn’t know where she might be today. But López Sánchez can thank that person every day, if she wishes, because she now works with that former recruiter – Narce Rodriguez, dean of student development at the Rock Creek Campus.
“I am extremely proud of Vicky’s career accomplishments,” said Rodriguez. “She operates with an equity lens that provides her the ability to challenge systems, support students and parents. She is an outstanding Latina role model for many of us. She not only represents us by her passion and compassion, but she gives us hope. She continues to deliver college opportunities to many students, the same way many of us do. She is a top leader in this area.”