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NEWS & MEDIA

TILLMAN TUESDAY: 2015 Tillman Scholar Jameson Lopez Looks to Impact Education for Native American Students

Pat Tillman Foundation Communications   |   By Jill Walsh   |   September 15, 2015
Jameson hopes to bridge the gap for Native Americans to get in to higher education

Pat Tillman Foundation can’t fulfill its mission to empower military veterans and their spouses without the generosity of our supporters across the country. Nationwide, over 400 Tillman Scholars are striving to impact our country and communities through their studies in medicine, law, business, policy, science, education and the arts. Every “Tillman Tuesday,” we are committed to highlighting the individual impact of a Tillman Scholar, focusing on their success in school, career and community—all thanks to your support. This week Jameson recently started his third year at Arizona State University as a PhD student, majoring in Educational Policy and Evaluation. While attending classes and studying, Jameson is also managing his time as a husband to his wife Vanessa and  father to his 2-year-old daughter Luna and four month old son Gordon.

WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO JOIN THE MILITARY?

“With 20 plus family members having served in the military, and then knowing about Native warrior tradition in other tribes as well as my own, alot is centered around the warrior tradition. The veteran presence in our tribe is called on all the time, whether it be for a pow-wow or other community events. There is a lot of respect for the veterans, so knowing that coupled with my own adventurous spirit and seeing firsthand what my family did – it wasn’t an expectation but to me it felt like an expectation. If I was going to do something meaningful and bigger than myself I felt it had to be military service and I also wanted to honor the legacy of my family. I intended to join right after high school but my Dad convinced me to attend college for a bit first. Then, in 2008 I went off to basic training.”

HOW LONG WERE YOU IN THE SERVICE AND WHAT WAS YOUR ROLE AS A TANK PLATOON LEADER?

“I was in the Army for 3 ½ years, including basic training and Officer Candidate School. I got my first platoon in September, 2009. After a year worth of training with my platoon, we were deployed to Iraq where I was on a patrol base about 8 miles east of the Tigris River in the Ninawa province. We worked with the Kurdish and Iraq Army and our objective was to occupy a small patrol base and get the Kurdish Army and security forces in Iraq to work together. My platoon worked with the Kurdish and Iraqi security forces to secure our specific battle space. We would run various missions off our small patrol base.”

WHY DID YOU MAKE THE DECISION TO GET OUT AFTER ONE TERM?

“I always knew I wasn’t going to be in the Army for life and wanted to pursue my education goal because I really felt that’s where I wanted to make an impact in my Native community (education).”

WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO PURSUE A CAREER IN EDUCATION?

“There are several factors that affected my decision to pursue a career in education. Both of my parents worked at a small college for Native students, my mom a faculty member and dad an administrator. As a kid I traveled to many reservations across the United States experiencing life on different tribal lands and I remember my parents always trying to recruit students to go to college, stressing the importance of higher education and following through on something. As an adult, Education was the career path I wanted to pursue, like my parents did.”

WAS THERE EVER A TIME IN YOUR LIFE WHEN YOU REALIZED THE IMPACT YOU CAN AND WILL HAVE AS A TEACHER?

“There are 3,500 members in my tribe community so when somebody passes away everybody knows that person or is connected to the family in some way. I remember going to a cremation ceremony on my reservation and noticing there were not any representatives from the school in attendance and grieving for this young boy who attended our reservation school. The school district on my reservation is mostly Non-Native workers. In a small community, teachers have a lot of influence with tribes, treating schools as their own place in and of itself so I questioned why teachers could teach native kids but not be present in the community and supportive of the family in times like these.” 

WAS THERE A MOMENT OR PERSON IN YOUR LIFE THAT HAS INSPIRED YOU ALONG YOUR MILITARY AND CAREER PATH?

“My mom grew up in a one bedroom mud house, called a sandwich house or also known as an adobe. She had dirt floors, one dress, no shoes and was very poor. Her parents were alcoholics, she never knew her real father and the man who raised her passed away in her arms from alcohol poisoning when she was 12 years old. She had a very rough life filled with abuse and any other hardship you think could happen to a child. A small group of students from a small Native college that came to her reservation to recruit students to go to college and my mom happened to be there. In speaking with a recruiter my mom was given enough hope that she could go to college – she did and earned her bachelor’s degree and then went on to earn her master’s and eventually became a faculty member. She is doing the same thing for other Native kids, trying to encourage them to go to college like she did. I want to follow what my mom and dad did and fulfill my calling with my fellow natives in the educational community.”

WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS UPON EARNING YOUR PHD IN EDUCATIONAL POLICY AND EVALUATION?

“Right now my goal is to be a professor – with it being two parts. One part is my research and my writing, I feel it’s a way to bring awareness to issues in American education whether it be good or bad. Being a Tillman Scholar is a way for me to bring that awareness. The second part is that I believe that my research will help in ways to create access and retention for Native American students in higher education. I want to affect education in the greatest way possible through research and access for Native American students in higher education. I really want to bridge the gap for Native Americans to get in to higher education.”

HOW DID YOU REACH THE DECISION TO APPLY TO BE A TILLMAN SCHOLAR?

“Being at ASU Pat Tillman is a household name so I was well aware of his legacy and life but didn’t really understand what the scholarship was about until I received an email from the Veterans Center here on campus. I just decided to apply and while reading through the bios of some of the previously named Tillman Scholars I was blown away, impressed and extremely humbled – I didn’t know what I was doing thinking I could be included in that group of individuals. It was a long shot for me thinking I would be selected and someone would invest in what I do.”

WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN YOU RECEIVED THE CALL THAT YOU HAD BEEN SELECTED AS A TILLMAN SCHOLAR?

“I was shocked and very humbled because I didn’t think I was deserving of it with so many other amazing people out there. Someone liked what I was doing and wanted to invest in my life. Having that support gives me such confidence and affirmation that I’m doing something right and I’m on the right track.”

IN ADDITION TO GOING TO SCHOOL AND BEING A DAD, DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER PROJECTS YOU’RE WORKING ON?

“I’m finishing up some research we did with one of the tribes in Arizona that focused on the impact of a school district leadership program on student outcomes.

A tribe went through a school turnaround leadership program on the reservation because the were one of the lowest performing school districts in the United States. We went in to the school district to see how the leadership program was run and what their outcomes were after going through this training program. We found a lot of the encouraging things that they did, and we learned it had a lot to do with the motivation of the teachers who were there and the administrators making a lot of strides in working with the tribal council. It was great to see the improved results because there are some drug and alcohol problems there, the suicide rate was high, 80% unemployment rate and gangs. It was great to see the hope these teachers were giving to their students, and also how the tribe was partnering with the school district to improve student success. The research was tough but the group I was working with was really interested in helping the reservation develop useful programs.”

Jameson_Lopez_Family

Jameson and his wife Vanessa are the proud parents of 2-year-old daughter Luna and four month old son Gordon

YOU MENTIONED GROWING UP IN YOUR TRIBAL COMMUNITY YOU LEARNED THE VALUE OF YOUR ‘WARRIOR SPIRIT’. COULD YOU EXPLAIN WHAT YOUR WARRIOR SPIRIT MEANS.

“For our tribe it’s a belief to be warriors and fight for our people and be able to stand for what’s right and fighting for your family. When we talk about ‘Warrior Spirit’ it implies being a fighter and being able to overcome obstacles for the greater good of the tribe. The men in our tribes believe we have the Warrior Spirit and then at some point, though there’s not an age threshold, there is a point you transition in to the elder role but for a lot of us that ‘Warrior Spirit’ is something that is inside of us when we’re born. It’s like carrying on a legacy and a duty to serve our people and stand up for them for the greater good of our tribe.”