UA professor invited to Super Bowl by Arizona Cardinals football player
Jameson Lopez, a University of Arizona assistant professor in the College of Education, received the chance of a lifetime after he was invited to the Super Bowl by Arizona Cardinals football player Larry Fitzgerald.
In addition to an all-expense-paid trip to Atlanta for both him and his father, Lopez had a chance to meet with Fitzgerald again and attend the NFL Honors on Saturday evening. Lopez was also invited to the USAA Salute to Service Military Appreciation Lounge, where he was honored for his military service.
“It felt really surreal … It wasn’t until they bought my plane ticket and gave me the confirmation to the hotel room like a week ago that I was finally like ‘Okay, this is real,’” Lopez said.
Lopez was selected as a Tillman Scholar in 2015. Through the Tillman Foundation, he took a tour of the Cardinals facility in Tempe where he met Fitzgerald and filmed a commercial with him for “My Clause My Cleats.”
“[Fitzgerald] is a great guy. You know, you see people, and they’re super athletic and famous, but he’s actually a man of substance and character, and for me that was so refreshing,” Lopez said.
The foundation was founded in 2004 following the death of Pat Tillman, a former Arizona Cardinals football player who left his career in sports to enlist in the United States Army in 2002. The foundation is dedicated to supporting military veterans through academic scholarships.
After obtaining his Bachelor’s degree in elementary education from American Indian College in Phoenix, Lopez was commissioned as an Army officer in January 2002. During his service, Lopez led a tank platoon in Operation New Dawn during the Iraq war, where he coordinated more than 300 combat missions with the Iraqi and Kurdish security forces.
“We were stationed in a small patrol base about eight miles east of the Tigris river,” Lopez said. “We sat out there and just occupied the space and tried to flush out some of the terrorists that were in the area. After that year, we came back home all alive, and we were blessed for that.”
Lopez received a bronze star medal for his actions in combat. As a member of the Quechan tribe in Fort Yuma, Calif., Lopez cites his strong ancestral background as his call to join the military.
“I come from a really strong warrior tradition,” he said. “Our tribe has always been known as fighters, both men and women. So knowing that I have family members who were in World War I, both my grandfathers were in World War II, I had nine uncles in Vietnam and then cousins that were in Iraq and Afghanistan, I knew it was my time.”
When he returned from deployment, Lopez continued to focus on his education, getting his masters in curriculum and instruction and a Ph.D. in educational policy and evaluation from Arizona State University. He was hired as an assistant professor in the UA’s Center for the Study of Higher Education in fall 2018.
According to Lopez, being selected as a Tillman Scholar has been a humbling experience. He’s grateful for the opportunity to be a part of such an impressive group of people and for the platform he’s been given to promote his number one passion: the support and education of Indigenous communities.
Lopez said his parents are his greatest inspiration for the work he does within Indigenous communities. His mother, Belinda Flame Lopez, grew up in a one-bedroom mud house on the Quechan reservation.
“Due to the boarding school era and all the things were happening through colonization, my mom grew up very poor and in an alcoholic home that was extremely abusive,” Lopez said.
When she was 12, Belinda’s father died of alcohol poisoning. Later that same year, a man from the Tohono O’odham tribe, who was also Quechan, came to their reservation with a group of native college students to talk to young Indigenous students about higher education. After seeing these native college students who looked like her and talked like her, Belinda decided that she wanted to go to college.
“I always share that story because I think that’s the beginning part of when I knew I wanted to go into education, because my mom, at the age of 12, changed the entire legacy of our family, from what could have been into what it is now, allowing me to be at a university as a tenure track professor. So, I think for me, seeing and knowing her story really helped motivate me,” said Lopez.
Lopez’ parents worked as professors at American Indian College in Phoenix as he was growing up. As a family, they would travel to various Indigenous communities to talk about education opportunities.
“I got to see all these different tribal communities and what their needs were and see what their lives were really like,” he said. “My parents would tell them about going to college, just like someone did with my mom.”
Lopez said he is proud to be continuing the same work his parents did and that somebody else did for his family.
“My goal has always been the same. Let’s get more native students into college and graduated and back into their communities,” he said. “Part of the reason why I love being [at UA] is because I get to help bridge those gaps within our community and the university, and creating those pathways for students.”
Lopez’ parents said they are especially proud of everything he’s been able to accomplish. As a mother of three, Belinda said that they always encouraged their children to be determined and persistent.
“Coming from an alcoholic home and background, I’ve always wanted to see them succeed and working toward better lives, providing for themselves and for their families,” she said. “Seeing that being accomplished is an awesome experience.”
With two children of his own, Lopez said he is excited for the opportunity to pass this legacy on. Lopez often travels to reservations with his children and includes them in the community service that he does.
“When I think about what my mom did for me and how my parents allowed me to experience that life of going to all these different communities … it’s important for me to bring my kids to those same communities,” Lopez said.
As for his work at the UA, Lopez said he is excited to work among a diverse and dynamic group of faculty, and to continue his work within Indigenous communities.
“To Indigenous students I would say don’t forget where you come from, don’t forget your culture and your heritage. Although It’s not always valued within an institution of higher education, it is valuable. Don’t lose sight of that,” Lopez said. “Those things are important to who you are a person. It’s something I try to maintain, my cultural identity, within an institution that historically wasn’t necessarily made for Indigenous students.”
Although he feels very accomplished at 33 years old, Lopez said there is still a lot of work to be done within Indigenous communities and he will continue to ask what more he can do. With support from the Tillman Foundation, Lopez hopes to continue supporting the needs of Indigenous students, even from the Super Bowl.
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