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First-generation Student Prepares to be a Change Agent in Medicine

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Meghan Franklin

Advancement Writer

Profile  •
Campus Life  •

Mayerli Lopez-Hernandez remembers when she first heard about college. Her fifth-grade teacher would call out, “College,” and her class would respond, “Ready!”

At the time, college was just a word used in a call and response. Growing up in a gang-dominated neighborhood in Denver, no one in Lopez-Hernandez’s family had any formal education past middle school. Lopez-Hernandez says it wasn’t until eighth grade that college took on a new meaning: She understood what it was and knew she wanted to attend one day.

Today, Lopez-Hernandez is a rising DU sophomore, majoring in biological sciences and minoring in leadership studies, Spanish, chemistry and health sciences. She wants to become a neurosurgeon to help others overcome brain degenerating diseases.

While Lopez-Hernandez says she has always been fascinated by the brain, she says her uncle’s vascular dementia diagnosis cemented her desire to pursue neurosurgery. 

Her interest in medicine goes beyond her love of biology; Lopez-Hernandez sees there is room for vast improvement in how the medical system treats patients and families who face big hurdles, like language barriers.

“From a very young age, I had to be the one to translate for my family. I had to be the one to interpret and try to understand doctors and medical bills,” Lopez-Hernandez says. “I see how much room there is to improve with serving patients, especially patients facing barriers like my family. I don’t want another family to feel the way my family felt.”

As Lopez-Hernandez completes coursework to prepare for medical school, she is also involved in two programs that are impacting the way she thinks about how she wants to contribute to the world.

Lopez-Hernandez spent her first year in the Pioneer Leadership Program (PLP) living and learning community, a learning experience that seeks to give students the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to become effective, collaborative leaders in their chosen fields. As a sophomore, she will serve as a Resident Assistant for the community.

Lopez-Hernandez also serves on the 4D Experience Council to help shape not only her cohort’s experience, but also the experience of all future cohorts. Currently a pilot program, 4D strives to prepare students to build their own futures as they champion the public good through four integrated dimensions: advancing intellectual growth, exploring character, promoting well-being, and pursuing careers and lives of purpose.

“Being a part of the 4D Council is teaching me the value of hard work and dedication to a project that’s striving to be inclusive of all communities on campus,” Lopez-Hernandez says.

Lopez-Hernandez says she wouldn’t be at DU if it weren’t for the scholarships she received, including the DU Pathways Scholarship, University Scholarship, and David and Betty Hess Scholarship.

“For a student like me, a first-generation Latina, a scholarship means every dream becoming a possibility,” she says.

Lopez-Hernandez wants to inspire more students like her to pursue higher education at DU or other, similar institutions. “A lot of students like me may assume DU is out of reach. It becomes affordable because of how generous DU and its donors are. Sometimes the stories won’t be as dramatic as mine, but we don’t need a dramatic story to continue funding education. More people like me deserve to be at DU. More people like me need to be at DU,” Lopez-Hernandez says.

To learn about how your gift in support of scholarships can make a difference in the lives of students like Mayerli, contact