Alisson Lopez has been focused on mental health and helping struggling classmates since long before the pandemic disrupted her life and presented new challenges in high school.
While still in her first year, Lopez teamed with a group of seniors to create a “safe room” for her classmates: a place to chill when they’re stressed and struggling with depression, loneliness and the pressures of performing well academically and socially.
Demographics at her diverse high school – students from low-income families or immigrant families, struggling with the burden of breaking the glass ceiling – were her motivating force.
Mental health has an enormous impact on how we react to the world around us
“Mental health has an enormous impact on how we react to the world around us,” says Lopez, who earned a 3.9 average at Newark’s Science Park High School in addition to being named to the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society. “The history of humanity has been worked out in the brain.”
Entering her first year at the Honors College at Rutgers-Newark and the Honors College Living-Learning Community, the Newark resident hopes to major in neuroscience, with an eye toward delving deeply into the workings of the human brain.
The ability to conduct undergraduate research, coupled with the opportunity to study with world-renowned scientists while remaining relatively close to home, drove her choice of Rutgers. She’s particularly excited to spread her academic wings after more than 18 months of COVID-19 restrictions.
“Like nearly everyone else on the planet, the pandemic hit me hard,” Lopez says. “I found myself isolated, having to mature in an unconventional way. Now, actually going to class, participating in sports and clubs – these will be very different. I have a new appreciation for life that I didn’t have before.”
The daughter of parents who brought her to New Jersey from El Salvador when she was 5, the young scholar wants to pave the way for her sisters, ages 12 and 7. Doing that, Lopez says, includes fighting for gender equality, assuring that her siblings become “proud Latin women, never being made to feel like lesser people.”