Edgar Lopez, '20, M.B.A. '21, Pays it Forward by Mentoring First-Generation Latino Students

By Lia Kizilbash Gillet

Edgar Lopez's experience as a first-generation Latino student directly influenced his choice on how to spend his volunteer efforts. 

For alumni volunteer Edgar Lopez, ‘20, M.B.A. ’21, being a first-generation Latino student came with many challenges.

Transitioning to college life, understanding the nuances of networking in professional settings, and navigating the uncertainties of life after graduation didn’t come naturally for Lopez. Today, Lopez is committed to paying it forward by mentoring students from similar backgrounds and supporting their professional development. He aims to support students in becoming better prepared, with the expectation that it will result in the creation of more opportunities for them.

Coming to NIU, Lopez knew he wanted to study business management, but was unaware of the significance of a resume or internship, let alone how to get one. Networking events were out of the question because of the perceived awkwardness of introducing oneself and interacting with strangers in professional and dining settings. The idea of a post-graduate career and life seemed daunting. However, Lopez's involvement on campus through various programs, student organizations, and faculty mentors helped build his character and confidence and opened doors for him.

"From the first day I arrived at NIU, I was an introvert. I had zero strong connections or affiliations," he said. "Over time, I grew my on-campus presence, made connections and received accolades. These experiences enhanced my communication, resilience and problem-solving skills, all while upholding my integrity and authenticity." 

As an alumni volunteer, Lopez participates in virtual panels and in-person volunteer events that contribute towards the professional development of students, including resumé workshops, mock interviews, elevator pitches, career planning and much more.

“These professional development experiences—coupled with the advice and expertise of alumni volunteers—are crucial to student success,” he said. “There's a lot of information available and many ways to accomplish your goals, so it can be extremely overwhelming for students. Whether a student is shy or doesn’t know where to start, I help provide them with the reassurance they need. I think it helps that I'm still young and students can relate to me.” 

Lopez says graduating during the pandemic was challenging. Still, he gained extra time and began shifting energy to two alumni organizations—the NIU College of Business Young Alumni Board (YAB) and the Latino Alumni Council (LAC). 

“I joined the YAB in search of a support network of young business professionals,” he said. “The YAB supports the mission of the College of Business while increasing engagement of young alumni, enhancing the career development of current business students, and providing mutually beneficial business, career, and networking opportunities to its members.” 

As the YAB vice president, Lopez is working to grow the organization to fulfill its mission and create future programming for current business students. He introduced the “Troubleshoot Series,” where members shared common workplace challenges, discussed solutions and provided feedback from different business professionals.  

“The YAB has helped me prepare for my career and transition from a student to a professional, and now I have the opportunity to do the same for others,” said Lopez.  

With a desire to increase Latino alumni engagement, Lopez decided to join the LAC. The council’s mission is to maximize the academic and social experience of Latinos at NIU while serving as a representative voice for Latino alumni and assisting in the unification of alumni efforts to further and support the interests of NIU.

“I started as a member-at-large and was recently selected to serve as secretary,” he said. “We are establishing a student scholarship and assisting NIU with obtaining the Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) designation. The HSI designation will positively impact students from all backgrounds by providing grants to expand and enhance various programs and offerings, as well as funding for equipment, facilities and other resources.” 

Supporting students’ professional development during the Hispanic Business Student Association (HBSA) and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) flash networking event was a memorable and rewarding experience for Lopez. 

“More than 40 students attended to interact with alumni from various employers,” Lopez recounts. “We helped students prepare for upcoming interviews, internships and career preparation. I was amazed at how well-prepared the students were already. NIU continues to do a great job preparing students. However, alumni helped provide a real-world perspective. Recent graduates and seasoned business professionals were valued because everyone’s experience differs.” 

As a talent acquisition specialist for UPS, Lopez brings his own unique experiences to students. By serving on the executive board of his local Hispanic/Latino Business Resource Group (BRG), Lopez is involved in diversity, equity and inclusion strategies to foster inclusivity in the workplace through teamwork, community engagement and personal and professional skill development. 

“I'm fortunate that getting involved and volunteering can overlap with my current role and responsibilities,” said Lopez. “My employer and leadership encourage my involvement and often provide recognition. I had an extraordinary experience at NIU thanks to faculty, mentors, peers, alumni and donors. After graduation, I knew I would pay it forward, and I am grateful the UPS culture supports this.” 

Lopez acknowledges that young alumni often feel that the only way to give back is through financial contributions. However, he reminds them that there are numerous opportunities to get involved on campus, including seven colleges, seven diversity and cultural resource centers and programs, and over 100 student organizations. He hopes more NIU Latino alumni will get—and stay—engaged, emphasizing that alumni can positively impact student retention and graduation rates. 

“One of my favorite quotes of all time is, ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world’ by Mahatma Gandhi,” Lopez said. “Giving back is a personal value and part of my legacy.” 

Contact Liz McKee ‘14 M.S.Ed., senior director of alumni engagement, at Lmckee1@niu.edu or 815-753-7400, to discuss volunteer opportunities with NIU.