By Matt Larson
No matter where or how you grew up, at the end of the day it’s up to you to make the best of it. Step 1: Embrace the fact that you can’t do it alone. Born in Oakland and raised in San Pablo and Richmond, Robin D. López didn’t always see the brightest future for himself, but he discovered a passion for science that led him on a pathway of success.
But it came at a cost. Growing up, López had many friends who ended up murdered or incarcerated, and after the suicide of his best friend, López dropped out of college and fell into a deep depression with no end in sight. But one day he woke up and decided that enough was enough; that he wasn’t living the life his friend would have wanted for him. Multiple professors from Contra Costa College had kept in touch with López during this time, and that continued support convinced him to reenroll. He soon dropped his bad habits, dropped the negative people in his life, and became more family-centric. The biggest turning point for López was learning to allow himself to be vulnerable.
“I allowed myself to finally start taking advice from my father, to finally start hearing out my mother, and to enjoy these moments with my nieces and nephews,” said this uncle of 10 with an 11th on the way. “I allowed myself to be mentored and guided, and it’s paid off tremendously.”
While attending Contra Costa College in 2012 he landed an internship at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. His task was to help map out fault zones by analyzing groundwater flow as part of a joint project with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Japanese Government. He loved the nature of working at the Lab—never knowing how the day will turn out, constantly being challenged to think differently. His passionate attitude didn’t go unnoticed, and before he knew it they offered him a job. “It kind of threw me off,” he recalls. “It’s one thing to be interning at one of the most prestigious research facilities in the world; it’s another thing to be working there as an employee. So every day, I’m just very grateful.”
In 2015 López graduated from San Francisco State with an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering. He now attends San Jose State pursuing his masters in Water Resources Engineering—an interest that began with his internship at the Berkeley Lab—and after having just been awarded the coveted National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship he’s now eyeing a Ph.D., as that Fellowship would allow him to become a fully funded Ph.D. student at any school of his choosing. Meanwhile, he continues working as a Research Associate in the Berkeley Lab’s Hydrogeology Department analyzing permafrost samples from the arctic in order to better understand climate change.
“I do not for one second forget where I came from or forget how I got here,” he tells us. “We grow up believing that we have to abide by these predetermined boundary conditions imposed by society … It’s a given that students and youth in this area are subjected to questionable outcomes, and are not afforded the same resources and opportunities as other neighboring regions, but that shouldn’t stop us from having goals; from wanting to do something.”
Still living in Richmond, López has become a role model for youth in West County. He’s actively inspiring others as a mentor for 4th and 5th graders via the Metas program at Contra Costa College; as one of the lead organizers of the March for Science in San Francisco; as the keynote speaker of the 8th Annual Northern California Summit on Children & Youth at the Richmond Community Foundation earlier this year…the list goes on and on.
Despite all he’s achieved thus far, López has big plans and is really just getting started. To follow his journey to the the top you can find RobinTheScienceGuy on Twitter @RichmondLyfe, and visit his website at robindlopez.com for some informative videos and more, as we’ve barely scratched the tip of the López iceberg.