“I love architecture. That’s why I work in construction. I want to marry my love for architecture and my career in public service with advocacy. That’s why I am at SLU.”
Eriam Lopez works for the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development. She is also a mom with a 6-year-old and a 13-year-old that she is home-schooling. And she’s a lifelong learner with degrees from SUNY Farmingdale and CUNY’s John Jay College, and now she’s a candidate for the M.A. in Labor Studies from SLU. Oh … and she’s also a representative to SLU’s Student Union and Academic Governing Council, and graduate representative to the University Student Senate.
How does she manage to wear so many hats? “It’s been hectic,” she admitted, “The pandemic actually kind of simplified my life because I’m at home most of the time, and so is my partner. I don’t have to commute from Queens to my office or school and only travel to my construction sites as needed. I just jump on and off Zoom meetings most days,” Eriam laughed.
In addition to all her other undertakings, Eriam was chosen recently by the City’s Department of Buildings to participate in its Scholars Program. “This is allowing me to pursue my interest in architecture and construction,” she said. “It’s a program that’s only open to CUNY students. This the first year it’s been done virtually. There are ten different lectures about the units housed within the DOB and how they interact with other agencies. Some of them work in tandem with my agency. I’m a compliance officer at HPD, so I’m looking at what types of investigations DOB does. At the end of the program I’ll have a sense if it’s something I want to do and if there are any civil service jobs available that I’m interested in. I definitely want to stay in civil service and advocate for workers, I just want to incorporate advocating for students. SLU is helping me figure that out.”
Why did she choose SLU? “I always wanted to pursue a Master’s degree, and a few years ago I found out about the Murphy Institute through Local 371,” Eriam said. “I went to an info session and was very impressed by the faculty and the curriculum. I was also really impressed with the small-school setting and the one-to-one attention.”
Does anyone really stand out when it comes to that personal attention? “All of the faculty are amazing, I can’t say enough good things about them. They include people with experience in government and administration as well as grassroots, with so many connections, and they are able to tell you what is happening right now. And they aren’t afraid to push us out of our comfort zone. Professor [Stephanie] Luce has been with me throughout my graduate journey, and last semester I took a research methods course with her. She has shown me all the possibilities in the field and how to quantify my research and present it to the public and to other scholars.”
She added, “Everyone at SLU has been incredibly helpful, even the IT department,” she said. “But I have to say my advisor, Irene [Garcia-Mathes], has been exceptional. I applied for an Ensley scholarship and there were a few hiccups because at that time Murphy was transitioning to SLU. Irene helped resolve that. And it was Irene who persuaded me to run for the Student Union. She has really gone above and beyond for me.”
Eriam is paying that forward as a member of SLU’s student government. “As a student representative I sit on the Student Union Steering Committee, as well as represent the School as Graduate Delegate for the University Student Senate (USS,” she said. “This experience has included the establishment of the inaugural SLU Student Union; endorsing SLU during the Middle States Commission school evaluation visit; addressing incoming students at SLU Student orientation events, and most recently advocating for SLU funding from the State legislature.”
Asked if she had any advice for prospective students considering SLU, not surprisingly, Eriam did. “If you’re looking to delve into social justice, advocacy, government relations, then this School is where you want to be. SLU is like a family. You’re not just a number here. They’re going to push you to achieve your best, but they’re also not going to leave you behind if you’re struggling. This School practices what it preaches.”
She added, “Students should envision SLU and what it stands for within themselves. We all have the ability to advocate for change and when we come together, there’s nothing we can’t do. If you’re looking for that kind of educational environment, this is the School for you.”