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Dean’s Award – SSIS: Graduate promotes healthy nutrition in community

Mario Lopez-Mendez says nutrition to him is "deeply personal." He hopes to use his expertise to promote better health among fellow members of the Latinx community. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Mario Lopez-Mendez, the Dean’s Award winner for the College of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies, graduated in Fall 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was at full tilt.

Job opportunities in his degree field, Nutrition and Food, were scarce. After ending his college career with an impressive résumé that included a nearly perfect GPA, he accepted a position as a dishwasher and prep cook.

“I had to do what I had to do,” Lopez-Mendez said. “I ended up learning the nitty gritty of kitchen operations, which was a good thing.”

Since then, he has begun working in a job that more closely aligns with his education. As a health educator for WellSpace Health in Sacramento, he counsels patients with diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions about the importance of good nutrition.

“It’s been really rewarding working with people in a personal way, building rapport and putting what I learned at Sac State into practice,” said Lopez-Mendez.

“Nutrition is a deeply personal thing for me. My ethnicity is Mexican, and within the Latino community we see a lot of medical conditions” that can be prevented or controlled by better nutritional habits, he pointed out.

Name: Mario Lopez-Mendez 

Hometown: Sacramento 

Degree: BS, Nutrition and Food 

Why Sac State? “It was good fortune. Sac State was on my radar since high school because my older brother had attended. It offered a nutrition program. And it was affordable.”

Nominator says: Lopez-Mendez has “a passion for helping others,” which played out in his commitment to promoting food security in the community, said Lynn Hanna, chair of the Family and Consumer Sciences department.

At Sac State, Lopez-Mendez balanced his stellar academic performance with service to the University and beyond. He served as a community health educator in low-income areas, coordinating nutrition classes, developing training guides, and collecting survey data. He interned at an urban farm, harvesting crops for local food banks. He also received training through the College of SSIS Student Success Center to help peers gain access to academic advisors and other campus resources.

The urban-farm experience was one of his favorite endeavors, as it furthered his understanding of “how food makes it from the soil onto our plates,” he said.

“Food for me is sacred,” said Lopez-Mendez. “I developed a new appreciation for the labor required to produce our food. Those kinds of experiences help us reconnect with the earth.”

Lopez-Mendez also took on campus leadership roles, including with the Sacramento State Club de Español, where students are encouraged to use their academic skills to create events that build professional experience and social connections. He also served as social chairperson of the Ballet Folklorico de Sac State, a cultural club focused on traditional Mexican dance.

As he looks back on his time at Sac State and embraces his new career, Lopez-Mendez encourages students to seek support and mentors as they navigate college life.

“The key to my success was not necessarily my ambition or my academic prowess, but the support I received from family members, friends and my professors,” he said.

“There is no shame in asking for help.”

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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