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Daniel López Jr. gets some of his best work done outside the office. Way outside the office.
“To me, running is so therapeutic,” he said. “If I have an idea that I’m thinking about, that is the time that I process it.”
Just as López pounds the pavement on Chicago’s scenic Lakefront Trail to craft his best ideas, Northeastern Illinois University’s vice president for Student Affairs encourages students to take advantage of opportunities outside the classroom to reach their full potential.
“Students come to Northeastern to learn a discipline, but we also help them become well-rounded individuals by being involved, engaged and participating with other students who may come from different backgrounds and who have different experiences,” said López, who—for the record—has run one full marathon and several half-marathons. “It’s important to go to class—that’s what we’re here to do—but Northeastern offers so much more, and it’s all connected to what students are learning in the classroom.”
López, who was promoted to vice president at the beginning of the year, is passionate about Northeastern, and passionate about the mission of the Division of Student Affairs: to support and engage students through programs and services that enhance their personal development, leadership skills and intercultural competencies in preparation for successful lives and careers in a dynamic global society.
“Northeastern is the future of higher education in terms of the diversity and the issues students bring to the University,” López said. “Because of our mission, I can’t tell you how proud I am to be at an institution where I really believe in our mission, our values. We live it every day.”
As López settles into his new role, he is excited about the possibilities that will be presented when the University’s first residence hall opens in the fall of 2016.
“Right now, because students commute, they come and go,” López said. “Many of them come, take classes and leave, so they’re not fully experiencing the University. My hope is that students who commute and students who live on campus can hang out and take advantage of leadership opportunities, tutoring services—or just have fun.”
López has served in various capacities at Northeastern, including dean of Academic Development and director of El Centro. He was the catalyst behind the creation of Northeastern’s Undocumented Students Project and has received national attention for his advocacy work.
López earned a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Illinois State University, a Master of Education in College Student Personnel from Loyola University, a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from the University of Illinois Springfield, and an Associate of Arts from Harold Washington College.
It’s an impressive résumé for anyone, but particularly for a first-generation student who wasn’t sure whether his undocumented status would even permit him to go to college.
“I didn’t know whom to talk to or where to begin to answer those questions,” said López, who was born in Guanajuato state, Mexico. “My family wasn’t having those conversations at home.”
About six months after graduating from high school, López and a friend were walking through downtown Chicago when they saw Loop College (now Harold Washington College).
“We went into the office, and an hour and a half later we were enrolled. It was shocking,” López said. “A counselor saw some potential. She gave us the information we needed and told us that being undocumented was not a barrier. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know where I would be today.”
In some form or another, López has dedicated his career to paying forward what that counselor, who remains a close friend to this day, did for him. While López was the first in his family to earn a four-year degree, he’s far from the last. He has 30 nieces and nephews—two of them have graduated from Northeastern, and two more are current students.
“At home, I’m known as the education uncle,” he said. “It’s important for me to educate them on the struggles I go through.”
López, who became a citizen in 1988, has worked with Chicago Public Schools to help educate undocumented students and their families and organized DACA workshops. Just a few months before his promotion at Northeastern, López was elected president of the Board of the Illinois Latino Council on Higher Education (ILACHE), an organization that is dedicated to the advancement of the status of Latinos through educational policy reform, advocacy, identification of best practices and dissemination of research and information.
Now he feels he can do so much more for Northeastern’s diverse array of students.
“I feel like I am in the place to make the most significant impact on the lives of students,” López said. “With this position in Student Affairs, I finally came home.”