FAIRFIELD — A few months into her freshman year, Mischelle Loeza decided she was done with school – and quit.
At 15, she gave birth to her first child. A second child followed when she was 17. Her time was spent working and raising two children as a single mother.
“My instinct kicked in,” she said. “I didn’t have a choice but to work.”
The Suisun City resident is the recipient of this year’s Soroptimist Women’s Opportunity Award, presented to a woman who is the primary financial support for her family and is enrolled in a vocational training or undergraduate degree program.
With limited education, Loeza often started at the bottom and worked her way up. At one restaurant, she began as a dishwasher and moved up to sous chef. When she left after 2½ years, she said she could do any job in the restaurant.
An office job came calling, and with it, a lot of money. Loeza spent almost nine years there and was able to purchase her own home and a car. Then her hours were cut and layoff rumors were persistent. She had less time in than the other woman in the two-person office. She was laid off.
Loeza decided it was time to resume her education. She started taking online classes. In January 2013, she arrived on the Solano Community College campus in Fairfield.
“It was a huge gap to go from eighth grade to college,” she said. “I was nervous but excited.”
Her lifestyle changed dramatically. She sold her house and car and went from making nearly $30 an hour to $8 an hour. She says she wouldn’t change anything, even the jobs she held as a teen.
“I learned something from every job,” she said. “I am so blessed. I can’t complain.”
Loeza is carrying 17½ units, works as a tutor on campus and in the office of Jowel Laguerre, Solano Community College’s superintendent-president.
Her emphasis is on social psychology. She has her sights set on San Diego State or the University of California, Berkeley.
“It’s a toss-up,” she said of the choice. “I aim high.”
High enough that Loeza won’t make excuses. Work and school are important, even when she’s not feeling well.
“I love learning,” she said. “I love the idea of doing something I enjoy every day of my life.”
Her career goal is to do research on how life choices affect people emotionally.
Loeza was born to a single mother who enrolled her in private school for the first years of her education.
“I think that was my saving grace,” she said.
She learned beyond her grade level at the private school, she said.
Her school day usually starts about 8 a.m. Depending on her work schedule, it ends at 4 or 5 p.m. School work is done on break between classes and work.
“I look at it like a job,” she said of school work. “I just have to do it.”
Financial aid helps with her school costs.
She can only guess what life would be like had she not returned to college. Loeza guessed she would be living paycheck to paycheck.
Loeza’s oldest child graduates from high school this year.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.