Robin Lopez in the Lab at LBNL. Cr. Roy Kaltschmidt, Berkeley Lab

Guest blog by Robin Lopez

Robin Lopez has just been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP), which is highly competitive. Well-deserved, Robin—congratulations! 

I did not expect to be selected. I was overjoyed just by the fact that I could apply, and that those who wrote letters of recommendations had faith in my potential. Then I got the greatest possible outcome! Whereas, graduate school and applying for fellowships seems like natural next steps for others, it’s very much unfamiliar territory for me. I did not grow up with educational support. My priorities as a youth were survival—staying alive, not academics or a career. To be in such an amazing situation now is beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Many of my childhood friends have become victims of the temptations within our environment. I could have easily been another statistic. To be awarded the NSF GRFP positions me to be able to leverage opportunities and determine my own future. These are degrees of freedom I have never experienced.

I owe much of this to my mentors, supervisors, and colleagues. Those from my early start at Contra Costa College after I turned my life around, San Francisco State University, San Jose State University, and most notably the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. At Berkeley Lab I was able to work on various projects in the Earth & Environmental Sciences Area (EESA): funded by DOE are Development of Fault Zone Characterization, NGEE-Arctic, and the ARM Project, and most recently the California Natural Gas Storage Study.
The inspiration to be relentless in my pursuits is derived from the interactions I have with the youth I mentor, and my nephews and nieces. Through their eyes, they see me as someone who has “made it.” No way am I close to where I want to be, though. I hope that this NSF GRFP award not only helps me further my success, but also helps me to erase the stereotype associated with people from backgrounds like mine. I was given an opportunity to explore resources I never knew existed, and careers I thought were untouchable. All it took was for me to get those glimpses of possibility, and my trajectory took off!

I can only imagine how much further those I mentor will surpass me, knowing they’re getting more than a glimpse. They’re given direct access via someone who resonates with their life experiences. The NSF GRFP isn’t just for my benefit. It’ll have lasting impacts on the future of elite diverse talent in American science/research efforts. Berkeley Lab’s EESA community has helped significantly in changing how I look at myself and the research world around me. I want current and potential mentors to know what a positive, profound impact they have on young scientists such as myself. The guidance does not stop here either. The mentors in my life will be needed more than ever, as I plan to make a life-changing decision to pursue a Ph.D. as a recipient of the NSF GRFP award.

To read more about Robin’s commitment to the community that cultivated him, at the same time as he pursues his own scientific endeavors, check out this TABL article, which highlights his efforts to encourage youth to carve out their own path.

Robin Lopez in the lab