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Summer Institute Scholar

By Allison Brace ’22

University of Dayton senior Willow Lopez participated in the 2019 Ralph Bunche Summer Institute where she focused on her research into sexual violence in U.S.-Mexico border communities, and was selected to present her work in August at the American Political Science Association conference in Washington, D.C.

Lopez, a political science major from Lima, Ohio, was one of 15 students nationally selected for the competitive Bunche Summer Institute, an annual, intensive five-week program at Duke University, intended to introduce undergraduate students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups to political science doctoral studies. She was one of seven Bunche scholars chosen to present at the APSA annual meeting.

“It gives me a sense of confidence that I didn't necessarily have before,” Lopez said. “I tend to be very critical of myself and downplay the things that I’m good at, so for someone else to see something in me… it just means the world.”

Lopez, who transferred to the University after her freshman year, was attracted in part by the Department of Political Science’s Dayton2DC program, a career immersion experience in Washington, D.C., in collaboration with the College of Arts and Sciences and the honors program.

Lopez has a passion for political science, largely driven by her own experience with sexual violence at her previous university. That experience sparked her desire to help other victims.

“I felt like I was so naive going into college,” she said. ”My life was not perfect but just a very normal life. Then after this event happened I just became very, very passionate about helping people.”

Transferring to the University of Dayton was a last-minute decision, cemented by meetings with Grant Neeley, associate professor and political science department chair, and Christopher Devine, assistant professor of political science.

She planned to pursue the Dayton2DC opportunity, but applying for the Bunche Institute seemed like a long shot — especially when she learned about it only days before the application was due. Lopez’s acceptance to the Bunche Institute followed soon after she submitted her application and her acceptance to Dayton2DC then followed. 

While many students use the spring Dayton2DC trip to seek summer internships in the nation’s capital, Lopez focused on visiting potential graduate schools since she already was accepted into the Bunche Summer Institute.

She credits her time at the Bunche Institute for her desire to pursue a doctoral degree.

“We took two graduate-level courses and then did research on top of that,” she said. “After realizing that I was able to handle such an intense program, I found confidence within myself. Like, oh yeah, I can actually do this… I can get my Ph.D.”

Lopez also credits the support of having Devine as her advisor, professor and mentor. He pushed her to seek internships and reach for the Bunche Institute. Lopez said she appreciates Devine’s ability to make her think hard about complex questions. His classes helped her prepare to speak at the APSA conference. 

Devine speaks highly of Lopez, who will graduate in December. He describes her as “passionate, creative and insightful” and believes her work is proof of this. 

“We are extremely proud of all that Willow has accomplished, and excited to see where she goes from here,” Devine said. “Being selected as a Ralph Bunche Summer Institute Scholar is a great honor. Indeed, this is one of the American Political Science Association's flagship programs.”

Following her time at the Bunche Institute, Lopez continued developing her research with support from the University of Dayton College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Summer Fellowship program, which provides undergraduate students an opportunity to conduct summer research in any academic discipline under the guidance of a faculty mentor. 

Participating in the Dayton2DC and Bunche Institute programs also has allowed Lopez to network with University of Dayton graduates who work in various fields, broadening her personal community with alumni across the nation.  

“I am very interested in moving to the D.C. area someday and just to know there are so many University of Dayton alumni in that area and that I will always have that community there is really comforting,” she said.

For more information about the Dayton2DC program, please visit the Department of Political Science website.

Image at top of page by Shaun King.

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