“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” William Shakespeare once mused.
But in Robin López’ case, his given name is apropos for a young man from Richmond who is successfully soaring in pursuit of both scientific and community endeavors.
The impressive 28-year-old was the recent recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP), a highly competitive honor that will award López a total of $138,000 to pursue his Ph.D. in hydrogeology.
In addition to his fellowship, the De Anza High School alum has earned six associate degrees from Contra Costa College in math, physics, sociology and various liberal arts studies, as well as a bachelor of science in civil engineering from San Francisco State University. All the while, he successfully completed two internships at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, which eventually lead to a job offer.
Currently, López is finishing up his masters degree in water resources engineering at San Jose State University while he works as a research associate at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.
One would assume that someone with so much on his plate would have little time for other pursuits—but not López. In addition to his career and academic pursuits, he finds time to mentor our community’s youth through his work at Contra Costa College’s METAS program, a preschool through 12th grade educational enrichment program.
But success was not served up on a silver platter for López…In fact, he walked a long and winding road toward his academic pursuits before he finally hit his stride and took flight.
“When I was in high school, I had no idea how to apply to college, what to do…I had no guidance,” López told For Richmond.
Although he had a longtime interest in science, López languished with little focus for a few years after high school. Eventually, he enrolled in and dropped out of Contra Costa College a few times.
The turning point for López came in the form of tragedy: He lost his best friend, Mark, to suicide. Shortly before Mark’s death, the two friends had agreed to get serious about their respective academic studies by reenrolling in Contra Costa College and finishing school.
“Although his life was cut short, his death empowered me to seek more out of life; I would have to say even in death, my best friend serves as a mentor,” López told Today at Berkeley Lab, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s online news site.
López kept his promise to his late friend, and thereafter, “Richmond’s Robin” took flight, so to speak. Looking back on his academic success, he also credits “an abundance of mentors and guidance at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab” and “past professors from Contra Costa College” as making a difference in his life.
He also greatly credits his family as helping him stay focused.
“I am very fortunate that I had a large family that made sure to keep me on track—and this is something many of my friends didn’t have. I realize that I’m privileged in many ways and I make sure to check my privilege because I understand not everyone grows up in a two-parent household and has all those siblings with them every day, and to me, that was a huge factor in enabling me to continue on my path, my trajectory,” López told For Richmond.
“I just hope that the way I found motivation in that, others who maybe lack in that family nucleus can maybe find that motivation from their own self-made family nucleus, whether it’s groups of friends or distant relatives…but having some type of [support system] is really important.”
“Just a few years ago when I applied to transfer, I got rejected by almost every school I applied to,” said López. “Now here I am today basically with this opportunity to go to any college I want to if I really push for it,” he added, referencing how his fellowship has made him a highly desirable Ph.D. candidate for top schools such as Stanford University, Syracuse University and the University of California at Berkeley.
“I would love to stay local,” López said of pursuing his Ph.D. “I would love to stay in this area where I can still work with the students that I’ve been working with, still mentor students in Richmond and show them that, ‘Hey, I came from the same environment as you and I’m doing this, and I want you to be better than me.’”
So what, might you ask, is López’ dream job?
“My dream job has been the same ever since I reenrolled back into college after Mark died, and that’s to be a professor at Contra Costa College but also, ideally, to hold an appointment with the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab as a principal investigator (P.I.) on a large-scale research project in hydrogeology,” López said.
“That way, I can bring in more interns from community college; work on having a better pipeline for high school and middle school students in our area,” said López re: Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, adding that he wants to “bring in more students from our community who are disadvantaged to have the same opportunities everyone else is getting.”
And López’ advice for Richmond’s youth?
“Don’t follow in my footsteps, create your own path,” he advised. “Create what you want to create. Because it took me longer than it should have for me to realize that’s what it should have been the whole time. I was trying to emulate what someone else was doing. I should have held true to my own identity and just let it take flight from there.”
“The accomplishments that people perceive me to have—they are not my accomplishments,” López told For Richmond in reflecting upon his success. “They are all of our accomplishments.”
“I wouldn’t be here without everyone else around me…As that old phrase goes, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ No one gets where they want to get to without help. No one does it alone. My accomplishments are the City of Richmond’s accomplishments.”
Robin López will be further expanding upon his community efforts by joining For Richmond’s Steering Committee and also by participating in our Richmond Rising Leadership Program.
Want to learn more about Richmond’s star scientist and dedicated community mentor? Click here to visit Robin López’ website.
-Kathy Chouteau, firstname.lastname@example.org