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U.S. Marine Corps Corporal and UNL student in College Possible manages classes, internship and national service

The United States Marine Corps has a motto “Semper Fidelis” meaning “Always Faithful.” College student Sandra Lopez applies that motto to her faith in the future and earning her bachelor’s degree.

Sandra, a 2015 Omaha South High Magnet School graduate, is not a typical student. She’s a senior at University of Nebraska–Lincoln and a corporal in the United States Marines Corps, serving at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.

“Serving in the Marines gives me a sense of pride. It’s probably the toughest branch in the military, and not a lot of people can say that they served in the Marine Corps, especially not a lot of females,” Sandra said.

Sandra received The Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation’s College Opportunity Scholarship to pursue her interest in criminal justice and psychology. College Possible helped make this dream a reality, she said.

“I would have been lost without help on deadlines on scholarships and I’d probably be in debt, if it wasn’t for College Possible encouraging me to sign up. It’s hard when you’re the first one in your household to go to a university, but with College Possible I knew what to expect.”

Sophomore year, Sandra wanted to do something new and challenging, so she took a year off school and enlisted in the Marine Corps.

“I wanted to serve,” she said. “I wanted to enlist, do something different with my life and know what it is like to be a Marine, but I always knew I wanted to graduate college. I wasn’t going to stop going to school because I enlisted.”

Not only does Sandra serve the country in the Armed Forces, she works four days a week in a career-related internship at the Beaufort County Detention Center in South Carolina. There Sandra books inmates and is a translator for non-English speaking inmates.

“It’s hard and stressful. I work every day from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., go to my internship four times a week from 5 to 10 p.m. and do my homework on the weekends. With my busy schedule, my College Possible coaches have been really helpful in reminding me about what I need to do when the next semester starts.”

Continuing education is an important value in the Marine Corps, said USMC Capt. Travis Horner, a Marine Officer Instructor at UNL. The officer training mission is to develop leaders mentally, morally and physically, and the USMC encourages professional military education and off-duty education, including enrollment at a local college or university, he said.

“There’s an emphasis on lifelong learning,” Horner said. “What the Marine Corps needs is critical thinkers able to make sound decisions on the battlefield, and you get a lot of that perspective from off-duty education through diversity and culture.”

This spring, Sandra plans to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. She hopes to attend the ceremony in Lincoln to receive her diploma.

“Sandra is persisting like crazy. She is taking online classes, serving our country and maintaining her education at the same time. She worked hard and is set to graduate in spring 2020,” said ServeNebraska AmeriCorps member and College Possible coach Zhomontee Watson. “She still prioritizes her education while serving our country. I am in awe of her.”

Following her military service, Sandra plans to move back to Nebraska to work in law enforcement. Law school is also an option, she said.

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