Senior Justis Lopez expected the Neag School of Education to show him how to become a social studies teacher. He did not expect it to shape him into a leader.
“One of the many things I’ve learned is how important it is to learn about yourself and find your own identity—how important it is to know what you can bring to the table to impact the world,” Lopez said.
A Manchester, CT native, Lopez’s transformative journey began in 2010 when, as a freshman, he became a member of the Leadership Learning Community, one of 17 undergraduate learning programs run by Student Support Services that allow those with similar interests to live and take classes together, as well as to take part in group team-building activities, community service and other projects.
It was in this community, Lopez said, that he began to more clearly see his talents and potential. Among other abilities, he learned he was a strong and energetic program organizer, as well as a comfortable public speaker. Indeed, he became the first-ever freshman to serve as master of ceremonies of the Asian Nite event that packs the Jorgensen Center for Performing Arts with students, parents, friends and others—an experience Lopez remembers as “thrilling.”
Since then, Lopez has emceed, organized and hosted a variety of other events, including various Learning Community kick-offs and campus-wide talent shows, homecomings, lip syncs and poetry slams. His involvement in the Leadership Learning Community and UConn overall only deepened when he became a residential assistant and began the dual work of helping new students adjust to college life and creating student leadership programs. The latter allowed him to work with many within the larger community, including ESPN founder Bill Rasmussen.
“All of my roles at UConn helped shaped who I am today, whether being a student, a mentor, an emcee or a residential assistant,” said Lopez, who spent part of this past summer in Europe as part of UConn’s Global Educators Study Abroad program that provides students with a first-hand account of how Europeans experienced World War II. It included time in London, Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin, where among other sites they visited Nazi headquarters.
According to Neag Associate Professor Alan Marcus, trip organizer and one of Justis’ favorite professors, “On our trip to Europe to visit WWII historic sites and museums Justis started each day with the words ‘I can’t believe we are here, I can’t believe I’m standing where …’ He was like a sponge absorbing new ideas and new perspectives.”
“The trip provided Justis with the opportunity to see historic events from a more global perspective which he is now using to be a more effective social studies teacher,” continued Marcus.
The first member of his family to attend college, Lopez’s dedication to service and excellence led to him being selected for the Leadership Legacy Experience, a year-long enhancement program that allows 14 exceptional students to build on their college experiences and prepare to become lifelong leaders.
Marcus is impressed with how Justis has become one of the most dynamic student leaders on campus. “He not only leads by running events and enthusiastically participating in activities, he leads by modeling. He is also a good listener and is open to ideas and perspectives.”
“He is a transformational leader in that he provides leadership that improves the lives of others, but also modifies his ideas and actions in response to others’ needs and feedback,” said Marcus.
“I’m so thankful to everyone who helped me get where I am today,” said Lopez, adding that he’s looking forward to the day when he can give students some of the same opportunities he received. “I’m excited to become a teacher.”