AFIT Alum MSgt (Ret) Juan Lopez, USMC wins Distinguished Hispanic Ohioan Award
Cyber researcher wins Distinguished Hispanic Ohioan Award
Juan Lopez Jr. promotes STEM careers with mentoring and hands-on demonstrations
By Amy Rollins Skywrighter Staff
A cyber researcher at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patter-son Air Force Base demonstrates not only how his work serves the nation, but also how he serves the local Latino community.
For that, Juan Lopez Jr., CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) (U.S. Marine Corps Ret.), a contract employee of Riverside Research’s Dayton Research Center in Beavercreek, was recognized Oct. 12 as a recipient of the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affair’s Distinguished Hispanic Ohioan Award during a gala at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Columbus.
Mr. Lopez was nominated for the award by AFIT’s Center for Cyberspace Research and learned he was a winner several weeks ago.
“It’s great to be distinguished for my work; however, being recognized as a member of a particular culture is even more important. Hispanics and Latinos are one of the fastest-growing cultures in the U.S., and there are many others who can make similar lasting contributions to our country.”
Mr. Lopez said his wife, Melisa Lopez, a civil service employee at the Air Force Research Laboratory and an Air Force Reservist, is his No. 1 supporter and enables him to accomplish the variety of efforts in which he gets involved.
Mr. Lopez also is noteworthy for being in the first group of senior enlisted members to attend AFIT full-time for a graduate degree in information assurance. He earned that distinction and a master’s degree in March 2004.
“We all attended AFIT through the Information Assurance Scholarship Program,” Mr. Lopez said, “to get advanced degrees in cyber and return to our military service and serve as a senior enlisted advisor to commanders in cyber security.”
A lot of senior leaders continue to wonder if the Information Assurance Scholarship Program is worth the investment, Mr. Lopez said.
“I am a prime example, and there are many like me, who have used the education that they’ve received through that program. Here it is, eight years later, and the return on investment is great,” he said.
A native of New York City, Mr. Lopez came from an underprivileged background and enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 17 as a high-school dropout. He served for 27 years in the Marine Corps, retiring in June 2008 as a master sergeant . The military opened many doors; he was able to earn a bachelor’s degree and his first master’s degree using off-duty education during the course of a decade.
He came to AFIT during the latter part of his military career to earn a second master’s degree and has been conducting research in critical infrastructure protection – computers that run the electric power grid, water dams and transportation systems — since then. It’s a huge problem area right now, he said. He is currently working on a Ph.D. in computer science, part-time.
“I owe a great deal of gratitude to numerous people that helped me along the way,” Mr. Lopez said. “They provided encouragement, advice and mentoring and led by example. I listened and followed up on the advice and counsel from one milestone to the next to reach the current path I’m on today. I strive to offer similar advice and counsel to the younger generation by paying it forward.”
While at AFIT on active duty a number of years ago, Mr. Lopez mentored young people at the Mound Street Military Career Academy in Dayton, tutoring math and science to what he called “second-chance kids” who struggled in school due to hardships.
He now participates in the Dayton Regional STEM School as an algebra tutor and provides live demonstrations of his research through a “power lunch” series.
He strives to provide insight on a number of STEM-related careers. ROTC and Civil Air Patrol cadets also benefit from Mr. Lopez’s mentoring and career counseling on STEM careers.
“As young as we can get them interested in math and science,” he said.
Mr. Lopez is a member of the Southwest Ohio chapter of the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers. The local chapter works with the University of Dayton, Wright State University and other institutions to mentor and recruit Hispanics.
“We get together for camaraderie and develop strategies to support the Hispanic community. We also look for ways to help grow the next-generation workforce in the STEM career fields.”
When asked how diversity can be used to help an organization, Mr. Lopez replies, “Diversity encourages forward thinking and unity of purpose.”
“It’s one of those quotes I live by,” he said. “Diversity is a very good thing if the organization and community recognize the contributions and forms of excellence that diversity can bring.”