Lopez lives – and learns – with his students as faculty-in-residence

Self-confessed “nerd” loves learning for the sake of learning

Lopez lives – and learns – with his students as faculty-in-residence

Marcos Lopez is living and learning right along with his students – and that’s not in the figurative sense. He’s literally living and learning with students. The Associate Professor of Mathematics is the faculty-in-residence at MSU Texas, a position that began with the addition of Legacy Hall to the campus in 2016. And even though he’s the teacher, Lopez says he’s learning new things all the time, just for the fun of learning.

Lopez took over the position in Fall 2020 from Professor of Art Steve Hilton, who was the first faculty-in-residence. An apartment was designed in Legacy Hall specifically for a faculty member. But Lopez said it doesn’t feel like he’s living with students. “It’s pretty quiet,” he said.

Lopez views his role as a resource but maybe it’s his attitude toward learning that might be the biggest influence on students. He is enthusiastic about learning, whether it’s in his field of mathematics, trivia, or computer coding, and says he’s always been a “nerd.” He’s a fan of game shows, crosswords, and pop culture, which led to one of his hobbies – hosting pub trivia. For more than two years he hosted trivia games at Wichita Falls Brewing Company, until COVID-19 closed things down.

One goal of the program is changing students’ perceptions of professors. “Sometimes students may not see faculty as humans. They forget we are people,” Lopez said. “We want to humanize the professors and get rid of the stereotype. Students need to feel comfortable with professors.”

Residence Life Director Kristi Schulte agreed. “We’ve seen how the faculty-in-residence program can help humanize instructors in the eyes of students. Students who have had the opportunity to interact with their professors at trivia night or an ice cream social are less intimidated by the idea of approaching a faculty member for help during office hours,” she said. “Ultimately, these connections bring us all together to support students on their pathways to graduation.”

Lopez was born and raised in Wichita Falls. He attended the Washington/Jackson Math-Science Technology Magnet School, Kirby Middle School, and Hirschi High School. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of North Texas and his master’s and doctorate from the University of Cincinnati. He returned to Wichita Falls and the MSU Texas position in 2015.

When teaching math, a subject that for some is difficult, Lopez says he is relatable in the classroom. “I’m not afraid to be wrong in front of the students. 

Learning is a part of life. I think that’s helped my teaching. Knowing stuff is fun just for the knowing. When you learn something, take a moment to realize just how cool that is.”

Schulte says she has appreciated how Lopez’ out-of-the-box thinking continues to develop the faculty-in-residence role during the current pandemic. “As a department, we’ve all been challenged to rethink how we build community and connect with students. Rather than focusing on what we can’t do, Marcos has brought programming to students in nontraditional ways they are responding well to,” Schulte said.

During last year’s elections, he ran debate and election watch parties. He hosts movie nights and events such as coffee for the students. Lopez works with Resident Assistants in the dorms and he’s also a source of references for the students. When COVID restrictions are lifted, he hopes to interact with more students and to have more activities.

He also will direct the Last Lecture series, which invites professors to share with students what they would say during a hypothetical last-chance lecture.

The faculty-in-residence role has been a bridge between student life in the residence halls and faculty. Schulte said Hilton developed opportunities for many of his colleagues to interact with students on campus, which allowed the Office of Residence Life & Housing to build relationships with faculty who might not otherwise have connected. “In fact, many of us in the department first met Marcos through his involvement with Steve’s faculty-in-residence initiatives,” Schulte said.

One of the things Schulte appreciates about Lopez is the way he jumps in to support students, even when it’s well beyond the faculty-in-residence position description. During the recent cold weather and snow event, the Residence Life & Housing staff responded to a living area where a sprinkler line had burst. “We were in the process of assessing the damage, cleaning up standing water, and determining our next steps with the affected students. When I turned around, Marcos was there asking how he could help. There was no expectation for him to leave his warm apartment yet he saw a need and stepped in,” Schulte said. “Marcos is exceptional!”

Meanwhile, Lopez has learned to knit, practice yoga, code, and play drums, guitar, and piano – and all just for the fun of learning. “Learning in itself is fun, even if it’s not something you’ll ever use.