After 14 years serving on the Pivotal board, Dr. David Lopez is stepping down from the position. We caught up with him to reflect on his many years of service and what he’s most proud of.
What drew you to become a Pivotal board member? Why is the Pivotal mission important to you?
I’ve always been dedicated to the education and support of students who are marginalized and who struggle with challenges because of the inequities in our system. I realized that in many cases, foster youth face what I call a “triple whammy” – in addition to being foster youth, they are more likely to be low-income students, and many are students of color. The system is not designed to help these students. That’s why organizations like Pivotal are critical. When Lisa Sonsini asked me to join the board many years ago, I was immediately drawn to the mission.
What is your background and what perspective do you bring to the Pivotal board?
I myself was one of those marginalized students, but I always had mentors and guidance to help me along. I was President of the National Hispanic Society for 12 years and that showed me how important it is to create an academic pathway for students as early as possible. I mean really, college begins in kindergarten. Many people who have the resources get their kids on track from the very beginning. Starting as early as kindergarten they already know what college they’re going to! We need to do the same for marginalized students who don’t necessarily have that support. As a board member, I always tried to bring that perspective.
What are you most proud of from your time on the board?
I’m most proud of being a student advocate and a student voice and providing my own lived experience to contribute to the decisions we made and the problems we tackled. I’ve always been proud to lend that voice to the conversation and to be heard and respected for my perspective. The organization has made so much progress over the last 14 years and I’m proud of all we accomplished!
What has been the most interesting or surprising thing you’ve learned in your time on the Pivotal board?
I’m always impressed by the students’ attitude. Some of these kids come from very challenging situations. I remember a particular student I met almost 10 years ago – a young Latino man who was at San Jose State. He was a foster youth with two siblings who were placed separately from him. When he described it to me, I wanted to cry because I thought about what it would be like if someone had separated my brother and sisters from me while we were growing up.
I asked him why he was working so hard at school, and he said, “I want to get my degree and get a job so I can have my sister and brother live with me.” To this day it still moves me. His attitude was so powerful. He was just determined to do it. He wasn’t feeling sorry for himself or angry or lashing out at people, and he wasn’t going to give up on what he wanted. I heard stories like this time and again from the incredible youth that Pivotal works with.
Anything else you'd like to share?
Pivotal has come such a long way from where it started. We’ve been through a lot of changes over the years. The organization is positioned to support students in and from foster care academically, socially, emotionally, financially and get them into schools where they have contacts and people that they know. Those are the most critical things for success for any student in higher education and the organization is very well positioned to do that now.