1:13 p.m., Feb. 20, 2009----When Samanta Lopez, central complex coordinator for University of Delaware Residence Life and graduate student in the School of Education, was in seventh grade, a teacher and mentor told her, “You are going to make a difference,” and that has been her goal ever since.
Speaking very little English as a seventh grader, Lopez and half dozen Spanish-speaking students had been placed in a special education class for lack of another program, and it was a difficult and daunting year for her, which she described in an essay, “My Dysfunctional Marriage with Education.”
Her teacher became her mentor and suggested to her mother that she go to another school, and that was a turning point in her life.
She regained her self-confidence and purpose, and the new school experience helped her “remarry education” and shaped her desire to help and make a difference in the lives of students and others.
In recognition of her work with students and the community at large, Lopez has been selected to receive the Genevieve Gore Young Woman's Leadership Award from the YWCA and will be honored at the YWCA Evening of Style to be held Saturday, Feb. 28, at the Hotel DuPont.
She was nominated by Licinia Kaliher, UD Residence Life complex coordinator and doctoral student in education, and Zakia Johnson, a program coordinator at the University of Maryland.
Lopez is being honored for her “demonstrated commitment to social justice, leadership in her community and active pursuit of opportunities to empower women and eliminate racism.”
According to the YWCA, Lopez has worked diligently to ensure all student voices are heard, particularly those of Latino heritage and international students, and has “transformed” many young people's lives. She is cited as being one of those leaders who “will leave a strong footprint wherever they go.”
“I am very excited and surprised about the honor. My sister is coming from Florida to attend the ceremony,” Lopez said.
Lopez was born in Puerto Rico and as a small child was in a “revolving door,” she said, alternating time between the U.S. and Puerto Rico, until seventh grade.
“I have known hardship,” Lopez said, “but looking back I think a band of angels has been leading me on.”
She graduated from the School of Performing Arts in Newark, N.J., (she plays the saxophone) and then from William Paterson College, where she was an RA.
In high school and college, she ran workshops for teenagers on a variety of topics, including diversity and sexual health and education.
She later received her master's degree in public administration from Kutztown University, where she received the Leader of the Year Award and other awards for advising and service.
She has worked in Residence Life at UD for seven years.
“My experiences are me,” Lopez said. “I am an advocate of change and believe we learn from one another, and that much education takes place outside of the classroom.”
Delaware students are involved in service learning and seek opportunities to work in the community, Lopez said, and she has formed partnerships with the Food Bank, the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Girl Scouts, the Latin American Community Center and other organizations which welcome student volunteers.
She serves on the board of the Commission for Social Justice Educators and is a member of the Professional Latino Book Club of Wilmington. She is associated with the National Coalition Building Institute and its programs on diversity awareness.
On campus, Lopez has served as adviser to such organizations as the Minority Student Network, and Latino sororities, Chi Upsilon Sigma and Lambda Theta Alpha and worked with the Center for Black Culture during Latino Heritage Month.
For the past two years, Lopez has also been a graduate student in the sociocultural and communal approaches to research and education program in UD's School of Education.
She said her focus is the Latino Diaspora and the needs of Latino students and also interdisciplinary education.
She has come full circle and returned to the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras, the city where she was born, as a research assistant to Rosalie Dow, assistant professor of education, to gather data on bilingual education and other issues.
Article by Sue Moncure
Photo by Ambre Alexander