Two graduating students awarded for vision and social justice
May 11, 2022
By Mark C. Anderson
Alumni Vision Award
The Alumni Vision Award is given in recognition to the graduating student (graduate or undergraduate) who best exemplifies the Vision of CSU Monterey Bay of preparing leaders for a collaborative, multicultural society.
Amaris “Reese” Lopez
Japanese Culture and Language, Spanish minor
The impossible is possible.
That’s one takeaway for Amaris Lopez as she receives 2022’s Alumni Vision Award.
As a low-income, first-generation, Latinx teenager arriving in the United States at 13, Lopez faced steady bullying from classmates for her accent and ethnicity.
Rather than let that discourage her, it helped her deepen empathy for others. “People are scared of differences,” she says. “That led me to help other communities that may be seen as different.”
In addition to her language studies (Italian and Korean, in addition to Japanese), she has flung herself into diverse work as a three-year resident advisor, farmhand, operations specialist, translator, teacher’s aide in Baja California and expedition researcher in Costa Rica.
Shigeko Sekine, chair of the School of World Languages and Cultures Professor of Japanese Language and Linguistics, marvels at her skill set.
“She has tremendous leadership skills, a hard-working nature, a strong sense of responsibility and the ability to carry through a job on time, as well as being extremely kind-natured, always helping others, especially those who are vulnerable,” Sekine writes in a letter of recommendation.
Lopez believes all those various roles have helped her find her “way of being in this world.”
“I have realized how essential and significant it is to be exposed to the unknown,” she says. “I am not perfect, [but] I am a human being wanting to help others by global competence, [which means] expanding people’s perception of life through culture and language.”
The Alumni Vision award is designed to celebrate the CSUMB Otter who best exemplifies the vision of CSU Monterey Bay to prepare leaders for a collaborative, multicultural society; she plans to earn a doctorate in education and to lead workshops at colleges that showcase educational opportunities that strive for multicultural and equitable learning outcomes.
She believes the award demonstrates how profound impossible possibilities can come in.
“Being awarded [this] showcased that the impossible is possible, regardless of my obstacles,” she says. “It means that I am a leader. I am a warrior without frontiers. I am a chingona.”
Outstanding Senior Award for Social Justice
The Outstanding Senior Award for Social Justice is awarded to a student who helped promote equity or social justice, acted as a change agent, or improved the quality of life in the community.
Environmental Studies, Science for Sustainable Communities concentration, Pre-law minor
To say Wendy Feng leads an occasional empowerment workshop would be like saying Marina experiences a touch of fog every once in a while.
Daniel Fernandez, PhD., professor in the Department of Applied Environmental Science, echoes that in his faculty nomination.
“To describe Wendy’s involvement with social justice as a single project would be an enormous understatement of her significant engagement in the effort of enhancing social justice at CSUMB,” he writes. “Social justice is literally the core of what has driven Wendy to participate to the extent that she has in numerous (namely dozens) of efforts during her tenure at CSUMB.”
She’s hosted sessions on redefining modern activism, real-world environmental justice, the consequences of social media on women’s rights, and intersections of identity.
She’s also led a half dozen “Social Justice Dialogues,” four “Safe Zone” LGBTQ+ trainings, examined inequities in environmental education at the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center (UROC) and played a major leadership role at the Otter Cross Cultural Center (OC3).
“From her extensive involvement in OC3 alone I would say that Wendy is an extremely influential change agent,” Fernandez continues. “The fact that Wendy created her own legacies within OC3 [like the Chinese New Year event], on top of the existing events she presented, provides strong evidence that her impact at OC3 and at CSUMB will last long beyond her presence on this campus.”
She’ll be attending the University of Oregon in fall for a fully-funded master’s degree in environmental studies. She hopes to gain a better understanding of community work and how to address environmental education.
“I love working with people, [and] by using a social justice framework, the environment becomes something that we all have to sustain and not just something for environmentalists to care about,” she says. “I believe everyone has the power to advocate for themselves and everyone deserves the right to a clean planet that sustains their livelihoods.”
In other words, she’ll keep doing what she’s been doing at CSUMB.
“I have advocated for equity and self-acceptance, and have encouraged everyone to be proud of who they are and where they come from,” she writes in her award application. “Sharing my own personal story at CSUMB has allowed me to connect with diverse groups of people and apply social justice understanding within their own lives.”
Which, keeping with the theme, is an understatement.