Education Breaks Down Barriers

Eleazar Lopez Jr

MATC alumnus Eleazar Lopez Jr., financial advisor for IronwoodDrive Financial Group

First-generation college graduate views MATC as bridge to a secure future

Growing up in Walker’s Point on Milwaukee’s near south side, Eleazar Lopez Jr. recalls a tight-knit community and a childhood world that consisted of about six city blocks. The United Community Center anchored one end and El Rey Super Mercado bordered the other. His parents emigrated from Mexico as young adults and Lopez grew up with cousins living on the same block. He attended Albert E. Kagel School, a bilingual elementary school in the Milwaukee Public Schools system, through fifth grade, when his parents enrolled him in Nativity Jesuit Middle School.

“My parents didn’t have the opportunity to go to college,” Lopez said. “They grew up in poverty and only have middle school educations but they recognized that a college education could make my life easier for social and economic mobility. Education breaks down barriers. They wanted to put me on a path to receive the best education I could.”

After graduating from Pius XI Catholic High School, Lopez enrolled at MATC to pursue a liberal arts associate degree. As the oldest of four siblings he felt a responsibility to pursue a college education, but wasn’t sure what route he should take. A high school counselor encouraged him to consider a two-plus-two program — two years earning credits at a community college that would then transfer to a four-year institution.


At MATC, Lopez and some friends relaunched the Latino Student Organization under the guidance of Cynthia Galvan, an English instructor who served as the group’s mentor.

 “Coming from Walker’s Point, we had a very strong Latino community,” Lopez said. “We wanted to share our culture, our stories, our traditions. We felt like we had an opportunity, but also a responsibility, to give back by bringing attention to issues that affect the Latino immigrant community such as poverty and lack of education.”

Through MATC, Lopez met Christine Neumann-Ortiz, founding director of Voces de la Frontera, a low-wage and immigrant workers center.

Motivated to activism, he volunteered to serve as assistant campaign manager in 2006, canvassing Hispanic/Latino/a neighborhoods and encouraging citizens to register to vote.

“Christine is a champion for immigrant rights,” Lopez said. “There is so much energy in her organization. We felt empowered. We could be a voice for the voiceless and help people get out to vote and advocate for change.”

Sabía que MATC era el primer paso para avanzar en mi educación y asegurar un futuro de oportunidades.

Eleazar Lopez Jr. asesor financiero de IronwoodDrive Financial Group y exalumno de MATC

His planned two years at MATC stretched into three. While he was pursuing his degree, Lopez was also raising a family and working two jobs. He attended classes full time in the morning, worked as a part-time bank teller in the afternoon and as a front-line supervisor for UPS in the evenings.

“A lot of times I wanted to give up but I knew that I couldn’t,” Lopez said. “I knew the moment I stopped taking classes, I wouldn’t go back. I just had to continue to push forward. Times were tough financially. But I knew MATC was the first step in furthering my education and securing a future of opportunity.”

His associate degree from MATC gave him a head start on earning his bachelor’s in business administration at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He followed that up with a Master of Business Administration from Cardinal Stritch University. He now works as a financial advisor for IronwoodDrive Financial Group.

“MATC was the bridge that got me to where I am today,” Lopez said. “I met a lot of great people and established relationships there. I leveraged the resource centers too. I learned to seek out help if I needed it.”

His daughter is following in his footsteps and getting a jump start on her college education through MATC’s new Gap Year program for intensive career exploration.

Lopez continues to serve his community through board involvement for various organizations. He’s particularly passionate about volunteering for organizations that promote education. By paying it forward, Lopez honors his father who worked in meatpacking plants for 32 years to provide educational opportunities for his children.

“I give my dad full credit for my MATC degree and continued success,” Lopez said. “He’s the one who made the sacrifice to move to a new country where he didn’t know the language. He wanted to give his family a better opportunity. For him to be able to say, ‘My son graduated from college,’ that is a big accomplishment.”

Learn more about the innovative Gap Year program at