Since completing her first associate degree in November 2022, Rio Salado graduate Tara Lopez has embarked on a journey marked by academic pursuits, business growth, and an unwavering commitment to her passions. Lopez continued her education and is on her way to finishing a second associate degree and preparing to transition into Northern Arizona University’s online program, laying the foundation for a bachelor's degree and beyond.
Lopez’s dedication to education is evident as she tackles forensic classes, Spanish 2, and upcoming courses in math and communications. Her focus on continuous learning is complemented by a desire to complete what she started in 2020 - the pursuit of her first college degree at age 47.
Balancing the demands of school and work, Lopez is dedicated to her small business, Spoiled Dog Kare, and navigating the intricacies of dog walking and providing in-home care services.
She’s also grappled with the nuances of small business marketing - all with skills she’s learned through Rio Salado College. Funds she received from a small business grant sponsored by Wells Fargo, as well as support from Local First Arizona, helped her launch a new business website. This achievement connected her with resources to foster growth.
Earning her first college degree as a business major was not the original plan, she said. But both her Rio Salado advisor and her husband encouraged the path, which has proven beneficial.
“I loved my business classes,” Lopez said. “But I don’t think I would have done that if I didn’t have the push from my counselor and husband. It’s given me a lot of insight. It did help me to market the business, learn about social media, and how to work and talk with customers.”
Lopez seamlessly integrates her passion for animals into her academic and business work. She uses her blog and school papers to explore topics ranging from the positive impact of pets on veterans to in-depth research papers on the influence of dogs on seniors' physical, mental, and emotional health.
Lopez acknowledges the transformation that occurred since her initial doubts about pursuing a business major. Not only has she balanced school, work and parenting, she’s also dealt with family and personal medical issues. Some semesters, she said, she struggled and earned a C in her classes.
“I’m disappointed because it messed up my GPA, but then I think, ‘Wow, you still pulled Cs with all of that,’” Lopez said. “Remember what you went through and that you were still able to pass the classes.”
“I’ve had bad days,” she said. “I’ve had Covid. I’ve run a business. I went to school. I trained a service dog in between all that and had to care for my grandmother.”
As she completes the community college partnership that leads to a degree with NAU, she will likely finish another associate degree - this one in science - from Rio Salado before taking her university classes. She then has eyes on a bachelor’s degree in leadership and accomplishing her dream.
“The last time I went to a four-year college, I was fresh out of high school and that was for one semester,” Lopez said. “And I wanted to be a paralegal.”
With the benefit of time and maturity, Lopez has reflected on her journey.
“It seemed at first it was a daunting task,” Lopez said. “I was never going to get to the end. Then all of a sudden, the summer before I graduated, I realized, ‘Oh my gosh. I did this.’”