For serving as a role model for diversity, inclusion and equity efforts, Lopez received the Diversity Leadership Alliance Inclusive Leader Award.
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For serving as a role model for diversity, inclusion and equity efforts, Lopez received the Diversity Leadership Alliance Inclusive Leader Award
Growing up as a Mexican American, Saray Lopez often felt that she never fully belonged to one culture. She wished she had a mentor to help her embrace what made her unique.
Seeing how diversity shaped people’s hearts and minds from both sides motivated Lopez to pursue career opportunities where she could foster a space where people could feel valued.
As director of student diversity, equity and inclusion at University of Phoenix, she has done just that, growing an increasing list of diversity-focused partnerships and events to establish a culture of inclusion at the University. Lopez joined University of Phoenix in 2015 to help foster relationships with Phoenix-area Hispanic organizations but transitioned into the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Diversity a year later and has helped build a series of diversity initiatives and events. For her efforts, Lopez received the Inclusive Leader Award from the Diversity Leadership Alliance (DLA) at the 18th annual Diversity Conference in Phoenix in November. The award recognizes an individual who serves as a role model for diversity, inclusion and equity within their organization.
Lopez said the award is a recognition of University’s focus to serve the underrepresented.
“The very foundation of University of Phoenix was to serve working adults who want to pursue higher education, for whom full-time university doesn’t work,” said Lopez, who was the feature of the 2016 cover story of Diverse Issues in Higher Education for Hispanic Heritage Month. “The most rewarding part for me is being able to create access for individuals from underprivileged populations to help improve careers, experience and networks.”
Lopez and her team work to build relationships between the University and communities across Arizona and beyond, including the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Diversity Leadership Alliance, National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), and many more. In her role, Lopez has built stronger relationships between the University and regional community groups, chambers of commerce and employers. The overarching goal, Lopez said, is to help provide more opportunities for students, faculty and employees.
For example, she collaborated with a national community organization on a joint research project looking into the challenges of African American men in pursuing higher education. The project included a critical examination of the career trajectories of Black male educators from three perspectives: recruitment, retention and mobility. The study garnered attention across the country as its findings were presented at conferences.
Alliance Joanna de’Shay, executive director of the Diversity Leadership Alliance, said Lopez has gone beyond connecting with community organizations.
“It’s her informal mentoring, and her individual impact, that have made such a difference,” de’Shay said. “There are many high school students who have said, ‘I would not have stayed in school if Ms. Lopez had not mentored me.’”
The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Lopez grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico, and Utah. She earned bachelor’s degrees in Marketing and French and then entered the business world as a buyer. She then returned to higher education, earning her master’s degree in Business Administration. She recently completed the New Leadership Academy Fellowship, in partnership with the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education.
Promoting broad inclusion in higher education is something of a life goal for Lopez. She said that it starts with asking some fundamental questions: Is the University a good neighbor? A good member of the community? Of society? How can we serve the community we live in?”
“There have been efforts in building diversity and inclusion happening all along, ever since the founding of University of Phoenix. They’re just not always labelled that way,” she said. “My initial focus when I came on board at UOPX was on bringing the community in.”
Lopez was instrumental in strengthening the University’s relationships with Arizona-area high school districts and community colleges. She sees building relationships between the University and communities as core to its identity.
Now working on her Ph.D. at another university while in her role, Lopez hopes to continue building on the momentum that’s been established already. She wants to create change, not only at the institutional level, but within all the spheres of influence.
“One day, we won’t need to have these special initiatives to promote diversity, equity and inclusion,” Lopez said. “We will have an equitable society.”