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Stepping out of his comfort zone

Posted 10:19 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023

Angel Velasco Lopez, a senior teacher candidate at UW-La Crosse, is the recipient of the Office of Multicultural Student Services' 50th Anniversary Scholarship. He says the scholarship has allowed him to focus less on financing his education and more on creating fun and engaging activities for his students.

Teacher candidate Angel Velasco Lopez has embraced his identity at UWL

Angel Velasco Lopez has learned many things at UW-La Crosse.

How to juggle the demands of working and studying full time.

How to stretch his paychecks to cover the cost of college.

How to engage and educate young minds in his future career as a teacher.

But most of all, he has learned to embrace who he is.

“As a student of color coming into a school field within a predominantly white community, it can sometimes feel uncomfortable,” says Velasco Lopez, who was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and spent most of his childhood in Sparta. “But being uncomfortable is not such a dreadful thing. Learning what makes us uncomfortable is essential so we know how to step out of our comfort zone.”

Velasco Lopez is the recipient of the Office of Multicultural Student Services’ 50th Anniversary  Scholarship — a gift that has greatly enhanced his college experience.

Simply being recognized “means a lot to me,” he says, but the scholarship has also boosted him financially and academically.

“Although I have lived in Wisconsin for many years, I have been required to pay out-of-state tuition,” Velasco Lopez says. In Wisconsin, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students are required to pay out-of-state tuition.

“This scholarship not only finances my tuition but also allows me to focus less on how I am going to pay for another semester’s tuition and more on student teaching this semester,” he continues. “By receiving this financial support, I can give my all to my students by creating fun and engaging lesson activities.”

As one of the few men of color enrolled in UWL’s School of Education (SOE), Velasco Lopez is blazing a trail for others.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, he plans to work in education full time and eventually pursue a doctorate in history or education. This semester, his last at UWL, he’s student teaching in social studies at Tomah Middle School.

Michelle Sylvester, SOE equity advisor and recruiter, says Velasco Lopez has been an exemplary student. And she has no doubts he will become an exemplary teacher.

“He is a teacher candidate who epitomizes resilience in the face of many odds,” she explains. “Wisconsin students need a teacher of Angel’s caliber in the classroom as he stands as a shining example of what can be accomplished with a growth mindset and a can-do attitude.

“As a young person who comes from an underrepresented community in Wisconsin, we believe that he will be a positive influence in any school,” Sylvester continues. “All students will benefit from his presence in the classroom, most notably any student who identifies as underrepresented.”

While Velasco Lopez has ventured outside his comfort zone at UWL, the campus, he says, has always been a good fit.

“What led me to come to UW-La Crosse was that I was already familiar with the area,” he says. “La Crosse gives me some feeling of a big city vibe while also having that small urban vibe. It’s an area that is not too big, yet there are things to do.”

There has also been plenty of people to meet.

Velasco Lopez says he has connected with many staff and faculty members — including Sylvester in SOE, Dina Zavala in Diversity & Inclusion, and Victor Macias-Gonzalez, Kenneth Shonk and Hanadi Shatara in the History Department — who have offered helpful guidance.

His involvement with UWL’s Latin American Student Organization has also been a highlight.

All these people and experiences, he says, have helped him fulfill his potential.

“For future students of color and students in general, do not be afraid to go out by yourself,” he says. “That way, you can learn more about yourself and who you are as a human, but also make sure to try to connect with new people, whether it is by joining clubs or just interacting with classmates.”

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