Growing up in Bridgeport on the South Side of Chicago, Ashley Lopez was part of Intrinsic Schools’ inaugural high school class. There, she took several honors classes and as many AP courses as she could, but always wished more were offered – she was clearly going places.

Excelling in her English classes, Ashley grew up wanting to be a writer or columnist. Towards the end of her time at Intrinsic Schools, she even applied and got into The New School in New York City. But Ashley quickly decided it was too expensive and felt unsure about how to make her dreams of attending college a reality.

Ultimately, Ashley decided to attend Ball State University to study communications, which was a bit of a of a culture shock for her compared to the diversity she saw back home in Chicago. She got a job on campus and kept her nose to the grindstone, but she was not happy, and the school was still too expensive, forcing Ashley to find an alternative to achieving her goals.

As a hard worker, Ashley was incredibly conscientious of the stigma around ‘being a dropout,’ and, after returning home in the spring of 2018, she felt depressed that she appeared not good enough to make it. She did some research and decided to transfer to Harold Washington College to continue her degree to study communications, later deciding to take classes at Wright College to shorten her two-hour commute.

While at Wright in the fall of 2019, Ashley enrolled in a new environmental science class that sounded interesting. The professor, John Brophy, was genuine and motivated, and Ashley felt like she could actually see herself doing something in the environmental field. It was the first time in a long time that she was inspired by her studies. Further, Ashley thought that a focus on environmental studies would make her stand out as a writer. While her interest in being a columnist began to wane, her interest in the field of environmental studies continued to grow, and thanks to Professor Brophy’s recommendation, Ashley ended up applying to an environmental energy program at Illinois State University. She was accepted to start classes in January of 2020 and just finished her first semester in the fall of 2020.

Looking back at the experience, Ashley says that City Colleges prepared her for success at ISU, and she wants to urge other students to consider the benefits of going to a community college. She thinks it was important that her peers were of all different ages and that they had many different life experiences. Instead of heading straight for that four-year university, she offers this advice to high school students: “take CCC into consideration and get a feel for what you want to do.”

Now an employee at Windfree Solar, Ashley works in contracting, and she enjoys being able to apply what she learned at City Colleges and ISU on the job. She’s also excited by the prospect of making meaningful, positive change in the renewable energy field, as well as breaking down barriers for those who look like her to get into the profession.

Ashley reminds us, “Me coming from a low-income family, people I know, or work with, don’t come from my background so they don’t get it. I want more people like me to get involved with renewable energy [to increase greater understanding and applications].”