The Gift that Keeps on Giving




By Stephanie Thara

Dennis López is what the university calls a “CSU Trifecta.” Struggling with financial hardships, López looked to the CSU for a high-quality yet affordable education. He discovered his passion for English and literature as an undergraduate at Cal State Fullerton, decided to further his literary studies by earning a master’s degree from Cal State Northridge, and now “gives back” as an assistant professor in the department of English at Cal State Long Beach. Three campuses, one “CSU Trifecta.”

“My hope was that college would provide a vehicle for me to pursue a career and to help my family out financially,” said López, a first-generation student. “I wanted to go somewhere that could provide me with a strong education, that would allow me to grow through new experiences and that I would be able to afford. CSUs were it.”

Shortly after completing his undergraduate studies from Cal State Fullerton, López started taking graduate classes at Cal State Northridge and was chosen to participate in the Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholars Program. The program supports the doctoral aspirations of students in the CSU, as well as awards funds that help students from underrepresented communities prepare to succeed in doctoral programs in their chosen field of study.

“I was provided resources, mentorship, and opportunities to attend conferences and sign up for professional organizations. The program guided my process in professionalizing myself and prepared me for a doctoral program. The best thing was that I was learning at a Ph.D. level as a M.A. graduate student,” said López.

Sally Casanova Scholars have the unique opportunity to 1) participate in a summer research experience program at a doctoral-granting institution to receive exposure to the world of research in their chosen field; 2) visit institutions to explore opportunities for doctoral study; 3) receive financial support to travel national symposiums or professional meetings in their field of research and; 4) work closely with a CSU faculty mentor to develop overall plans leading ultimately to enrollment in a doctoral program.

Throughout his educational journey, López discovered that as much as he loved the learning experience, he wanted to help others learn. After receiving his Ph.D. from UC Irvine, he started teaching students at Cal State Long Beach about subjects such as twentieth-century U.S. ethnic literature, Chicana/o and Latina/o literatures, and social protest and proletarian literatures.

“My family is from Latin America, and my research and what I teach speaks to my experiences in the Latina/o, Mexican-American and Central American community I grew up in,” said López. He brings important issues that Latina/o writers raise in novels and poems to class for discussion, as well as engages the class to think critically on how literature relates to their own lives and communities.

To date, nearly 1,950 Sally Casanova Scholars like López have made the commitment to pay it forward and pursue a career in teaching and research at the college or university level. To learn more about Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholars Program, visit