It is rare that someone can confidently say who or what they want to be. It is especially hard to do this during the trying years of college.
This is not the case for Adam Efren Lopez.
When the senior history major is not doing homework or studying for his classes, he is living his dream, working for the underrepresented students at NIU and in the university community.
“I’m hoping to spark consciousness,” Lopez says.
“I would love it if I could have some students look at me and think, ‘He looks like me and talks like me, so if he can do this, so can I,’ ” he adds. “With all of the challenges that our communities face in terms of education, incarceration, deportation and mental colonization, it is inspiring to see my peers here at NIU taking it upon themselves to lend a hand at correcting these issues.”
His good works have not gone unnoticed.
Lopez is the winner of the 2013 Emerging Leadership Award from the Illinois Latino Council on Higher Education (ILACHE).
ILACHE is a statewide organization dedicated to the advancement of the status of Latinos through educational policy reform, advocacy, identification of best practices and the dissemination of research and information. Its mission is to create an awareness of issues impacting Latinos in higher education and to provide a statewide forum for Latino educators, community representatives, and other supporters for the social and professional advancements of Latinos.
“It has been energizing to witness Adam’s personal and professional development as a student leader, mentor, and contributing member of the community for the past three years,” says Susana Das Neves, an academic adviser and counselor at the NIU Academic Advising Center.
Das Neves, who has represented NIU on the ILACHE board since spring 2011, nominated Lopez.
“Adam’s contributions to the status of underrepresented students at NIU, and the community have been remarkable,” she says. “He has taken the responsibility to serve as a positive role model for young students and has instilled on them love for education, social justice, culture and community.”
At NIU, he serves as student outreach coordinator for the Latino Resource Center, organizing high school visits of prospective students to NIU and planning campus tours, faculty presentations, transportation and meal logistics.
Beyond campus, he is deeply involved in mentoring DeKalb High School students through an after school program that blossomed from a Latino Resource Center initiative.
Responsible for a caseload of 15 to 35 students, Lopez develops lesson plans and activities that promote student and civic engagement inside and outside the classroom.
“Most importantly,” Das Neves wrote in her nomination letter, “he developed and is implementing a Mexican American Studies program. The idea is to reconnect students with their cultural background while learning about the society they currently live in.”
“It’s a community responsibility focused on the indigenous concept of the Hunab Kú (In Lak Ech): ‘Tu eres mi otro yo’ – ‘You are another me,’ ” Lopez says. “I hope to spread this awareness like a ripple effect, that each-one-teach-one type of organizing.”
He hopes to become a professor after college, continuing as a mentor to other Latino and black students.
“I would like to do relatively close to what I am doing now, with more experience and knowledge, of course,” he says. “I just want to show the other Latino students that they can easily do what I do. It is just about taking the community responsibility.”
Winning the ILACHE award is exciting and humbling, Lopez says, giving credit for his own success goes to many people throughout his life.
“I owe a lot of it to my parents, as well as a lot of mentors including Susana Das Neves,” he says. “Around NIU, especially, there are people who push me to do these things. I could have never gotten to where I am by myself.”
Lopez will be honored at the 21st Annual ILACHE Professional and Student Development Conference, scheduled Friday, April 19, at St. Augustine College in Chicago. For more information on ILACHE, contact Das Neves at (815) 753-5908 or firstname.lastname@example.org.