Mateo Antonio Lopez of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. is about to finish his undergraduate studies at Mount Saint Mary College, but there’s no time to rest: he’s moving to Memphis to continue his education at the University of Tennessee’s Health Science Center.
That means four years of Pharmacy school for the lifelong New Yorker in completely new surroundings. But like his parents before him, who emigrated to the United States from Mexico, Antonio Lopez is ready for the challenge. As a first-generation college student, this is far from the first time he has needed to step outside his comfort zone.
“I didn’t have a lot of friends or family who went to college, so I didn’t know the process to apply,” he explained.
He also didn’t own a computer or a car. Anytime Antonio Lopez needed to get online to continue the Mount enrollment process, he’d need to walk two miles to the local library. And that was just a prelude to his busy college years.
The days as a Mount student started early for Antonio Lopez, who hopped on the 6:40 a.m. train to Beacon and then took a bus to the Mount. The process takes between 45 minutes to an hour each way. That was in addition to working about 70 hours a week. In high school, he started working at McDonald’s to put himself through college and continued throughout his college career. Sometimes he would work an overnight shift and attend his classes in the morning. As a result, the gifted Biology major has mastered the art of time management.
“Whenever I could, I read and took a look at what we were doing in class that day, so I could be prepared,” he explained. “I served customers and thought out my projects at the same time. I really had to use my time very wisely.”
More recently, Antonio Lopez has been working at the Rite-Aid Pharmacy in Poughkeepsie as a way to get some experience in his field. As it turns out, it was just as helpful to his customers as it was for him, thanks to his ability to speak fluent English and Spanish, as well as conversational French, Portuguese, and Italian.
“For me it was important to serve my community as a pharmacy technician,” Antonio Lopez explained. “There weren’t a lot of pharmacy technicians that were bilingual, so I was able to help a lot of families to understand what the doctor was saying to the pharmacist.”
The Mount opened up a new world of learning for Antonio Lopez, who was part of the college’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURE), the college’s chapter of the American Chemical Society, a member of the Latino Student Union, and part of the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP).
“When I came to the Mount, I became fascinated about how much you could learn about Biology,” he explained. “And the more you learn, the more you don’t know, is what you realize.”
The Mount’s Natural Sciences faculty was here to help him to cultivate his budding love for Biology every step of the way.
“The Mount’s science courses are really challenging. They really push you to your limit,” Antonio Lopez said. “So for me, there was always so much to learn and always room for improvement. That’s what really motivated me during the process. I wanted to be a better version of myself every day.”
He added that “Every single professor I’ve had at the Mount has taught me a valuable lesson,” noting his appreciation for Suparna Bhalla, associate professor of Biology; Elizabeth Harper, assistant professor of Biology; Evan Merkhofer, associate professor of Biology and chair of the Mount’s Division of Natural Sciences; James Moran, associate professor of Biology; and Douglas Robinson Jr., associate professor of Biology, among others.
With his Mount education as a strong foundation, Antonio Lopez is looking forward to the future. One career path he would like to explore is the field of Bioinformatics, which involves using technology to understand and interpret biological data, such as DNA or amino acid sequences.
Looking back on his own experiences, Antonio Lopez’s advice to new college students speaks to what made his four years at Mount Saint Mary College so successful.
“Seek discomfort and try new things,” he said. “If you have the passion, you can always make some time. There’s always time to learn new things.”