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Greeley Central Grad Pursuing Her Dream at UNC Thanks to Local Scholarship

August 30, 2022

Natalia Lopez-Gutierrez has always had a clear vision of her future. She wanted to go to college and be the first person in her family to graduate with a degree, specifically at the University of Northern Colorado just miles away from where she grew up so that she can stay close to her mom and siblings. Lopez-Gutierrez has even known what she wanted to major in; education, and what demographic of students she wants to work with. 

“I’ve always known I wanted to work with kids after hearing stories my mom would come home with from work,” Lopez-Gutierrez said. 

Lopez-Gutierrez's mom, Karla Gutierrez, works at the Greeley Alternative Program (GAP), which provides students a unique opportunity for academic success through individual graduation plans.  

“My mom works with a lot of students that speak English as their second language who may have moved here from Mexico their junior year and have no credits at all,” Lopez-Gutierrez said. “She always told me how difficult the transition was for them and how they learn English while also going through the whole high school process. It’s really inspiring to me. I want to help people in those situations.” 

Seeing how much of an impact her mom’s work has on students, Lopez-Gutierrez developed a passion for teaching.  

“Sometimes with the stories she brought home to us, I’ve cried because I have a big heart for helping people,” Lopez-Gutierrez said.  

In order to put her plans into action, she attended UNC’s Future Teacher Conference earlier this year to learn about the programs she’s interested in and hear advice from students currently going through those programs. She also participated in a teacher cadet program in high school. While Lopez-Gutierrez had her future lined up in her head, even planning on joining intramural teams and clubs at UNC, there was one link she couldn’t connect; Lopez-Gutierrez didn’t know how she was going to afford tuition.

Natalia at UNC's Future Teacher Conference

Lopez-Gutierrez, on the far right, attending UNC's Future Teacher Conference

“I was taking it day by day and trying to figure out what options I had,” Lopez-Gutierrez said. “Then my counselor at Greeley Central High School told me about a new scholarship and I applied right away.” 

The scholarship came from the Weld Community Foundation through a new grant called the Wilbert R. Wiedeman High School Scholarship. The fund was established to support hard-working students who are active in extra-curricular activities and volunteer in community-based activities.

Lopez-Gutierrez easily fit those criteria. At Greeley Central High School, she was involved in women's basketball, softball and soccer as well as the school’s club dance team called Dance Block.  

“I loved being involved so I thought maybe I have a chance,” Lopez-Gutierrez said.

Natalia playing basketball

Lopez-Gutierrez playing basketball in high school

Natalia playing basketball

Lopez-Gutierrez playing basketball in high school

Natalia playing basketball

Lopez-Gutierrez playing basketball in high school

Natalia playing basketball

Lopez-Gutierrez playing basketball in high school

Natalia playing basketball

Lopez-Gutierrez playing basketball in high school

Two months later, Lopez-Gutierrez heard her name over the intercom at Greeley Central High School where she attended and was called into the administration office. There, she was told that she didn’t just have a chance, she was chosen to receive $100,000 for college tuition and living expenses.  

“I still don’t think I have taken it all in,” Lopez-Gutierrez said. “When they surprised me, I was shocked. That’s a lot of money and this is such an amazing opportunity.” 

Lopez-Gutierrez's mom was there when the life-changing news was announced.  

“My mom cried,” said Lopez-Gutierrez. “She cried because she is a single mother. I live in a single mother household, so we struggled trying to get a plan together on how we were going to afford it. It was pretty stressful for us.” 

“Every week we have challenges, but we just overcome them and keep moving forward and that’s part of being a single parent,” Karla Gutierrez added.  

Gutierrez always knew her daughter had the potential and determination to be an impactful teacher. That’s what made the families’ challenges hard to swallow.  

“To think that she might not be able to accomplish that goal because we can’t afford it, it’s just huge,” Gutierrez said. “Receiving this scholarship has taken a tremendous amount of weight off my shoulders. There are no barriers anymore, she is going to accomplish her goals and she is going to be the teacher that she always wanted to be.”  

Video above: Lopez-Gutierrez discusses her journey to higher education. Scholarship video courtesy of Tony Garza

Lopez-Gutierrez was one of four local students, one other from Greeley Central and two from Windsor High School, who received the Weld Community Foundation scholarship. Lopez-Gutierrez started her courses at UNC this fall, finally living out the dream she’s had for years. 

“People say that college is the best experience of their life, so I’m ready to get that real college experience and meet new people and get involved in UNC," Lopez-Gutierrez said. “I am so thankful to have this opportunity.”

– written by Sydney Kern

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