Helping Students Succeed
Alumnus Israel Lopez’s (’10) dream to become a lawyer began in a courtroom at age 13 when his brother was on trial facing felony charges. Capturing that dream seemed out of reach given no one in his family had ever attended college and that he was coming from a very low-income household.
Lopez’ biological father left his mother while she was pregnant with him. His then single-mother became a drug addict. As a young child, he was molested by a family member while living in the attic of their home. Two of his brothers were incarcerated for gang-related activity. His mother remarried but abandoned him when he was in middle school.
Lopez went without a parental figure because his step-father worked so many hours to support what was left of their family. He started to get in lot of trouble and was suspended multiple times while in middle school.
“I graduated from eighth grade by the hairs on my chin,” said Lopez.
During high school, Lopez worked at a local hospital and fast food restaurant to support himself while he jumped from home to home. At one point, he ended up homeless, living in his car across from his school in the dead of a Wisconsin winter.
“Every morning I would sink shower at the Pick ‘n Save down the block,” Lopez said. “I had two garbage bags of clothes and a TV. I didn’t tell anyone because I was really embarrassed. My circumstances always motivated me though.”
Lopez knew working hard on his grades and the football field would help him get into college. Despite his struggles, he began drawing interest from several universities who were impressed with his 3.0 GPA and football skills.
His dream to become a lawyer was still alive and well and he chose to attend Concordia.
“The athletic and academic scholarships I received were key,” he said. “I also wanted to study at an urban college so I could have easier access to professional opportunities.”
Lopez quickly settled in.
“Concordia made the Twin Cities feel like my first real home,” said Lopez, who attributed this to the efforts of faculty and staff members. “They took me in like I was their own child. They have literally looked out for me since I was 18.”
Lopez said faculty members Jayne Jones and Matt Ryan, both of whom hold law degrees, provided him real-world experience and mentorship that prepared him for law school and practice.
Jones led Lopez and a few of his classmates through the state and federal legislative process. The small group ultimately drafted, advocated for and helped pass the Kyle Herman Bill—a bill to help prevent child abuse in classrooms, especially special education classrooms.
Beyond gaining real-world experience, Lopez learned important life lessons from Jan Baumgart, who taught his first year seminar course, and developed his religious and spiritual life.
During one of Lopez’s required religion courses, Professor Dr. Rhoda Schuler introduced him to a trusting relationship with God.
“That started the process of learning how to forgive those from my childhood,” he said. “It also created a stronger passion to help people.”
After Lopez graduated from Concordia and began law school, he and two of his law school classmates launched a non profit to develop mentor relationships between elementary school students and upstanding college athletes.
His desire to help people did not stop there…
Lopez recently became a Concordia donor to help the university’s increasing number of first-generation low-income students access a Concordia education.
“There are so many Concordia students like me who face incredible financial and social hardships that can easily prevent them from continuing their education,” Lopez said. “God put me in this world to help people and this is just one small way I can give back.”
Lopez graduated from law school in May and landed a job as a civil litigation attorney at a small firm in Madison, Wis.
You can help first-generation low-income Concordia students too! Make a gift online today!