‘What If’ Questions Lead Staff Member to Commencement Stage

A closeup of Lizbeth Lopez with greenery in the background
Working with the Academic Senate at UC Davis led staff member Lizbeth Lopez to return to school and earn an undergraduate degree in communication, which will be awarded to her at fall commencement. (Courtesy photo)


Closeup of Jeevan Mann

Read our story on graduating student Jeevan Mann, who is poised to help people like him who have rare conditions. He will be one of nearly 700 undergraduates participating in fall commencement on Saturday, Dec. 16.

Lizbeth Lopez had earned more W's for course withdrawals than actual grades at community college and a dental assistant certificate from trade school before she started working for the Academic Senate in 2017.

But supporting the faculty government got Lopez, then an administrative assistant, thinking. “What if I went back to school and got my AA? What if I transferred and got my BA? What if I did it here?” she said.

Now 33 and a policy analyst, Lopez will have only started to answer those questions when she crosses the stage at fall commencement Saturday and is awarded a bachelor’s degree in communication.

Starting with one course

Lopez, who grew up in Dixon and graduated from high school in 2008, resumed her educational journey at Sacramento City College in fall 2019 with one course. “I wanted to make sure I really wanted it this time,” she said.

Evidently, Lopez did want it. Since 2020, she has worked full time and studied full time.

Lopez earned an associate degree and applied to Sacramento State and UC Davis. The Sacramento university accepted her, so she took classes there in spring 2022. “While I was at Sac State, I received my acceptance letter from Davis, and I jumped ship,” she said.

Finding balance was a challenge, Lopez said. “Making time to go class, study, do homework, take a break and enjoy life — and work was tough. I missed a few family get-togethers, had to skip a vacation. But now I am done!”

As a first-generation college student, Lopez said, the desire to set an example for her niece and nephew and make her parents proud kept her going. “But most importantly, I wanted to do this for me,” she said. “I enjoy learning. Knowledge is something no one can take from me.”

Support and staff benefits

Lopez said the greatest benefit of working and studying on the same campus is the support she received from the Academic Senate team.

Her supervisors let her know that under UC’s professional development policy she was eligible to use up to 80 hours of work time a year to attend classes and encouraged her to apply for scholarships. In 2022, she was a recipient of the Staff Assembly Scholarship.

“I have very good people in my corner!” Lopez said. “It’s also nice to take classes from faculty whom I actually know from (Academic Senate) committees I supported.”

Another benefit for staff: The UC Employee-Student Reduced Fee Program provides a two-thirds reduction of the UC registration and education fees for career employees enrolled in regular session courses of up to nine units or three courses per quarter, whichever is greater.

‘Invest in yourself’

Lopez said she would encourage other staff to start and or complete a degree. “Do it!,” she said. “Take advantage of professional development resources and make the time to invest in yourself.”

Now that Lopez has answered some of her "what ifs," what’s ahead? “I am looking forward to deleting the Canvas app (for the learning management system) from my phone, if I am being completely honest,” she said. “But I plan to use my degree to keep growing at UC Davis!” 

Julia Ann Easley of News and Media Relations tells stories at the heart of the campus and supports communications for Enrollment Management, Student Affairs, Undergraduate Education and other units.

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