First-Generation Student’s Life Transformed by Scholarship

Without scholarships, Justis Lopez wouldn’t be on the verge of realizing his dream to be a public school teacher. Lopez is about to gain statewide recognition as part of the UConn Foundation’s efforts to raise $150 million over the next five years for scholarships and fellowships.

Lopez, 22, is a graduate student in the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut. He will graduate this May with a master’s degree in education and is featured in a series of National Public Radio spots that begin running April 20 and continue to Memorial Day Weekend.

[Listen to Justis’s WNPR segment on SoundCloud]

“My family is not wealthy and I knew early on that I would need to work hard and earn scholarships if I was to become the first person in my family to graduate from college, let alone graduate school,” said Lopez, who finds time for a little fun at community and athletic events by performing as Jonathan the Husky.

Since Lopez arrived on campus four years ago from his hometown of Manchester, Conn., he has supervised more than 150 first-generation students from low-income backgrounds, served as a peer mentor advisor, experienced an “alternative” spring break helping the disadvantaged in Atlanta, studied World War II and the Holocaust in Germany, worked as a graduate assistant in Neag’s Dean’s Office as part of an initiative to improve diversity in teaching, and taught English and special education to public school students.

“One of the happiest days of my life was learning that not only had I been accepted to the Neag School but that I had secured the financial support from UConn to actually attend. Generous donors to the Foundation gave me an opportunity but I understood that what I did with it, was up to me,” said Lopez. “My goal is to become a social studies teacher with aspirations of becoming a principal and superintendent working on educational policy.”