Born and raised in Orange County, California, Monica Lopez grew up bilingual: her parents are both of Mexican descent, and her paternal grandparents spoke predominantly Spanish. When she was a senior at Fullerton High, she met her future husband who was attending and working at Fullerton College. "My husband has been one of my greatest supporters to pursue my education," said Lopez.
Her parents did not go to college, but they knew the importance of education and encouraged their children to go to college. As the oldest of three, Lopez always knew that she had to be a good example to her younger siblings. Seeing her teacher aunt and cousin motivated her to become an educator.
While studying at Fullerton College, she participated in a study abroad program in Spain. Prior to the trip, she was vaguely interested in a subject where she could use her bilingual background and skills, and this trip solidified her interest in becoming a Spanish teacher. She transferred to Cal State Fullerton as a Spanish major.
At Cal State Fullerton, she worked two jobs, just like many other first-generation students, in order to help alleviate her parents' financial strain. She worked at the university and public libraries, where she encountered many Spanish-speaking patrons who needed assistance in Spanish, and librarians would also turn to her for help. She realized that she loved working in a library.
When she was choosing a graduate school, the decision to either remain with teaching credentials or go with library and information science came fairly natural. She began her master's program offered on the CSUF campus through San Jose State University, and gained experience working in public, campus, private, and museum libraries.
She also joined a professional organization, REFORMA, which is a national organization that promotes library and information services to Latinos and the Spanish speaking. Through this organization she discovered that there was a need for Spanish speaking librarians - she found a calling where she could use her Spanish skills. She is still active in REFORMA and she presented at its national conference about her experience as a Latino librarian this year.
After she earned her master's degree, she worked at a corporate library/business information center where she supported business analysts finding articles and information for their research projects. Although she enjoyed the fast-paced environment of a business library, she realized that it was missing one critical component of being a librarian - to help regular people/the public.
The turning point came when she began her temporary assignment at Golden West College as a librarian in 2002. She thoroughly enjoyed working with students in a campus library setting. In 2004, she landed a full-time librarian job at Cerritos College, which was larger in student population and demographically more diverse with more than triple the size of the Spanish-speaking student population. This was where she could call "home."
At Cerritos, she is part of the Learning Communities, where a cohort of students takes several courses to build community and work together. She's participated in this for the past seven years and truly enjoys it. "It benefits students and faculty alike, as we all support each other and exchange ideas." She also participates in the "First Year Experience" program, where students are predominantly Latinos. As a first-generation college attendee and being Latina, she said she could relate to them and would like to give them advice they need.
Many students came to Lopez wanting to volunteer in the library, and the best way she could accommodate the eager helpers was to create a club. Also inspired by President Obama's volunteerism initiative, Lopez established the Library Club in 2009 with assistance of Paula Massadas Pereira, library technician clerk at the time. Students came up with innovative ideas such as an ESL book discussion to help ESL students, book sales, poetry events, and, this year, they began reading to the children at the Child Development Center. The Club was awarded the Club of the Year Award this year - a splendid achievement for a club that has been in existence for only two years.
Yet, Lopez finds time to serve as a mentor for Puente students, participates in Teaching and Learning Modules where faculty share and learn student behaviors and teaching techniques, and attended the Great Teacher Conference in Santa Barbara this summer. When asked where her energy comes from, her answer is, "Students energize me. I feel like I get more from students than they get from me."
"Looking back, I had thought I knew what I wanted to do but ended up changing my majors twice, at the college and after I finished my undergraduate study," she laughed.
Her passion in helping students simply radiates from her. "I like books, yes, but more than anything else I love helping people," she said.