School of Transborder Studies professor receives inaugural Charter Professor Award
Gilberto Lopez honored for his commitment to ASU’s charter; vows to continue making a difference in Hispanic communities
When Assistant Professor Gilberto Lopez of the School of Transborder Studies was asked to appear before University Provost Nancy Gonzales, it immediately brought back memories of adolescence, when he wasn’t the most stellar student, and he wondered for a moment if he was in trouble. As it turns out, he was being summoned to accept an award, and not just any award.
Lopez is part of an inaugural group of professors being honored with the Charter Professor Award, a new award at Arizona State University to recognize and assist professors who truly embody the ASU Charter and the goals of the New American University. Lopez is one of four professors to have this new distinguished title. Each year, ASU will sponsor two faculty members — one tenured or tenure-track faculty member and one career-track faculty member — to serve as Charter Professors for a period of three years.
As a young student growing up in California’s central valley, the son of migrant farmworkers, Lopez never imagined he would end up a tenure-track professor at one of the largest research universities in the country. A first-generation college graduate of humble beginnings, Lopez began his higher education journey at Modesto Junior College and eventually went on to earn an MPH from Johns Hopkins University and a doctorate in social and behavioral sciences from Harvard University.
These days, Lopez spends his time educating the Hispanic community through culturally tailored, science-based educational campaigns such as COVIDLatino, an original concept he came up with to address the lack of information and misinformation within Latino communities, which were hit especially hard during the pandemic. He also takes pride in mentoring youth in the Migratory Student Summer Academy, which provides children from farmworker families the opportunity to access college through an immersive STEM-focused summer program.
The other award recipients honored for their outstanding work and commitment to the ASU Charter are:
- Sara Brownell, President's Professor in the School of Life Sciences and director of the Research for Inclusive STEM Education (RISE) Center. Brownell's research focuses on inclusive excellence in undergraduate STEM education.
- Stacey Gandy, a licensed clinical social worker and a clinical assistant professor in the School of Social Work. Gandy's commitment to ASU’s charter and design aspirations are reflected in her work with the ASU Community Collaborative, an effort to support the health and well-being of low-income individuals and/or individuals with disabilities in Phoenix.
- Karen Knierman, an assistant teaching professor, astronomer and astrophysicist in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. Knierman has trained teachers and students to use a portable planetarium for more than a decade, particularly in rural, inner-city and tribal communities that do not otherwise have access to field trips.
"Their work exemplifies the best we do to serve our students and our communities in ways that further our culture of inclusive excellence and overall excellence in everything we do,” Gonzales said.
For his part, Lopez will receive $30,000 over the course of three years to further develop and expand El Laboratorio, an innovative research and design studio dedicated to creating effective culturally tailored science communication interventions for Latinos.
“I’m on a mission to democratize science and make science accessible to everyone," Lopez said. "Because there are geniuses everywhere, and we need to find innovative ways to bring science to Latino communities and break down those barriers and create new knowledge.”
In her nomination letter, Professor Irasema Coronado said Lopez's students tend to gravitate toward him because of his background, relatability and the way he positively interacts with and mentors them. She says he maintains an open-door policy that fosters meaningful relationships.
“His teaching evaluations indicate that he is an excellent teacher because of his passion, ability to share knowledge and for creating positive learning environments," Coronado said. "One student wrote, 'Dr. Lopez’s passion was contagious and made me want to learn more and fill this gap in my knowledge. I appreciate him very much.'”
"It feels weird to be in the spotlight like this, but I appreciate the collaboration put forth on my behalf. It’s an honor,” Lopez said. He encourages students to reach for the stars and believe in themselves, and not underestimate their ability and belonging in higher education, "because we belong in those spaces."
Inspired by the legendary McNair Scholars Program, Lopez runs a mini McNair program of his own in which he works with students for one year and mentors them to pursue their postgraduate dreams. He helps them fight imposter syndrome and believe in themselves to apply for top Ivy League programs; he tells his students that as long as they meet the minimum requirements, they must apply. Lopez encourages more students to be bold and seek out mentorships. “Rely on your network of support and seek out paid internships and summer programs to make stronger applicants,” he said.
“Gilberto's accomplishments in teaching, research and mentorship demonstrate his unwavering commitment to ASU’s charter,” Coronado said. “He will continue to make a significant positive impact on ASU and its community.”