AVONDALE, Arizona – Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) alumna Monica Gomez-Lopez always believed that good health was more important than money, but money became the obstacle in pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor.
Her educational pathway as an undocumented immigrant presented many challenges, but with the positive influence from EMCC mentors and staff, and various scholarship opportunities, her dream is now coming true. Today, Lopez is a medical student at the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix (UA COM-P), as part of their Pathways Scholars Program, and expects to graduate in 2019.
One of the requirements of the Pathways program was a community project. As a fitness-for-fun runner, Lopez found her inspiration during a run through the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area in Central Phoenix. She saw large murals that had been painted on the bridge support walls, by other organizations, and knew this is how she could tell her story of transformation, through the expression of butterfly art.
“I’m not an artist, but I knew this could have a long-lasting effect on those who see it,” said Lopez. “It didn’t need to be perfect. I just wanted it to inspire with a message of ‘you can do this!’”
Lopez moved to Arizona when she was eight years old, brought by her mother who would come twice a year to work in the fields. Her mother returned to Mexico and left Lopez with a relative in Phoenix so that she could have a better life. They were only able to reunite during the two times her mother returned to work in Arizona.
“We lived in one of the poorest areas near the border, and were lucky to have money to buy food and have a roof over our heads,” said Lopez. “But if our health was poor, we could not work and provide for our families.”
After graduating from Agua Fria High School in Avondale, she attended EMCC and graduated in 2003 with her Associate in Science, with honors.
“My mentors at EMCC saw something in me that made them believe I could be a doctor,” said Lopez. “They encouraged me to the point that I finally began to believe in myself and my dream.”
She transferred to Arizona State University and received her bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering in 2008. For six years, she was working, saving and studying for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT®). In 2012, she achieved her residency status, which now opened the doors for scholarship possibilities.
However, when she applied to UofA Medical School, she was not accepted based on her test score and the fact she had been out of school for six years. An admissions representative presented Lopez with the opportunity of being admitted through the Pathways Scholars Program, and her lifelong dream was now becoming a reality.
It was this life-transformation that became the inspiration for her community project, but again, it didn’t come without perseverance.
After working relentlessly through the approval processes with the Phoenix Audubon, Rio Salado, City of Phoenix, the Southwest Monarch Study, and many more, she was finally granted approval. Next she had to create the artwork, raise the money for supplies, find and schedule volunteers to help her paint the mural.
Like any college student, the winter semester break provides an opportunity for fun and rest, but Lopez needed to devote all of her time to quickly complete the mural project. After ten days, more than 50 hours and the help of 24 volunteers, the beautiful butterfly mural was finally completed, ready to take flight, inspiring others to transform their lives by believing in their dreams.
The mural is located on the north side of the Central Avenue Bridge, down the nature path of the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, off Central Avenue just south of the Maricopa Freeway.