Ethics and Social Change
Hometown: Evansville, Indiana
When Robert Lopez entered the Changemaker Challenge in his junior year of high school, he had no idea how big it was going to be.
Lopez and his classmate, Caro Haynie, started the challenge with a plan to create a wetland education park that collects rainwater and cleans it through the park’s plants.
When they claimed third place their junior year, Haynie and Lopez decided to enter again their senior year. After winning the second place prize — a $5,000 UE scholarship — Lopez decided to attend the University of Evansville and continue to cultivate both his project and his journey toward making a sustainable impact.
Building a Wetland Park in Downtown Evansville
What started as a chance to earn a scholarship has taken on a life of its own. Lopez is collaborating with multiple organizations and municipalities to finish the park project, which will take 2-3 years.
The stormwater retention park will be installed in downtown Evansville to collect rainwater runoff from large storms as a way to relieve the sewer system, ensuring it doesn’t overflow and dump combined sewage into the river. A complex, underground design will allow for the water to either soak back into the ground or be sent to a treatment plant before being released.
While the underground system is where a lot of the magic happens, Lopez is focusing above ground to find funding for any extra amenities the Evansville Water Sewer Utility cannot pay for. Lopez is also collaborating with community leaders and designers to develop the best version of the park — one that serves the surrounding community.
Growing in Meaningful Ways
Working with government and private stakeholders has helped Lopez grow in many ways, including cultivating presentation skills, time management, project management, and communication skills.
“As a presenter, as a student, as a person, and as a leader, I have grown significantly. While being on campus as a freshman this past fall and spring, I've been able to surround myself with those who also have a need to help others in big ways while still learning in the process, and that has been hugely beneficial. Between the Changemaker Project and my time so far at the university, I would say it’s impacted me in some really deep and meaningful ways.”
Since entering the Changemaker Challenge as a high schooler, Lopez has been driven to help others. The resources at UE have given him the ability to make a difference. With plans to graduate in 2023 with a degree in Ethics and Social Change, Lopez has plenty of time to continue cultivating his experience and abilities.
“Anyone who wants to make some serious change around them can do it, they just don’t have access to the opportunities, and that’s where the university comes in. Never in a million years would I have guessed I would be doing the things I’m doing, having the conversations I’m having, and going to the places I'm going because of my background. Yet here I am, doing all these crazy things, and it was because of one chance meeting in a classroom.”