The story of College Mentors for Kids at Virginia Tech began late one night at the W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center.
Cody Lopez was then a rising junior at Virginia Tech who was working at the center over the summer. While Hokie Camp groups were meeting, Lopez saw Laura Sands in the back of the room. Never afraid of being bold, he introduced himself. They talked for a bit, and Lopez thought that was the end of his interactions with Sands.
About a month later, Lopez received an email from Sands, inviting him to dinner with her and President Tim Sands. At a table in Owens Food Court, the Sandses brought up a program their children were involved in at Purdue University — College Mentors for Kids, a nonprofit organization that partners with local elementary schools to serve children who receive free or reduced-cost lunches or who are potential first-generation college students.
A nudge from the university president and Laura Sands was all he needed. Lopez started Virginia Tech’s chapter of College Mentors for Kids in late 2014. Each elementary-aged student involved in College Mentors for Kids is paired with a college student as a mentor and bused to Virginia Tech once a week. For two hours, students participate in intentionally planned activities on campus that hit one of three national learning objectives: culture and diversity, community service, and higher education and career.
“The College Mentors for Kids program is a wonderful asset to Virginia Tech and our community, putting elementary school students on a path to success while helping college students grow as leaders and role models,” said Tim Sands. “Laura and I are proud of Cody and his work, and glad that our conversation helped spark his innovative spirit.”
The organization’s ideology struck a chord for Lopez because of the importance of mentors in his life.
“I think a mentor is someone who has an unwavering belief in the things you can do, even when you don’t know you can do them,” said Lopez. “When I think of mentorship, I come back to my Extension agent who served the area where I grew up. There was never a time when I didn’t feel comfortable turning to him. A mentor is someone who is able to guide you and push you and make you see in yourself what they already see in you.”
College Mentors for Kids launched at Margaret Beeks Elementary School in the spring of 2015, and has since extended to Kipps and Prices Fork elementary schools. Currently, 145 Virginia Tech students participate in College Mentors for Kids. This fall, the organization is expanding to Eastern Montgomery Elementary School in Elliston, Virginia.
Lopez graduated from Virginia Tech in 2016 with a bachelor of science in psychology and a minor in theatre, and he now serves College Mentors for Kids on a national level as the associate director of programming. Based in Blacksburg, Lopez oversees eight of the 35 universities that house a chapter of College Mentors for Kids.
When Lopez graduated, he didn’t just don a cap and gown. He also wore two oversized feet. As the HokieBird, Lopez acquired a deep connection to the university that made an impact far more powerful than simply being an icon at athletic events.
Lopez remembers standing at the April 16 Memorial on the Drillfield, dressed head to toe in his HokieBird costume. A woman stopped, embraced him, and said, “I cannot tell you how much it means to me that you’re here.”
“People were not afraid to share their emotions with a mascot,” said Lopez. “I got to see our community through the eyes of the symbol of the university.”
But it is as DJ C-Jay that Lopez might be best known on campus.
“Ever since I was young, I always loved getting to pick the CD in the car,” said Lopez. “And when everyone else liked the music I chose, it always made me really happy.”
When he was in high school in Martinsville, Virginia, a local business opened up their facility for weekend teen nights, but they didn’t have the funds to pay a professional disc jockey. Lopez was close friends with the town’s well-known DJ, so Lopez was recommended for the job, simply based on his interest in and love of music.
Lopez’s talent as a disc jockey has vastly improved since those days. He now DJs weddings, dance parties, and campus events, and he has opened for Fetty Wap, Lil Dicky, Sammy Adams, Action Bronson, and The White Panda.
In the spring of 2015, Lopez received a memorable phone call from the Black Student Association, asking him to DJ an event for them. Lopez started to decline, saying, “Sorry I’m unable to help — I have tickets to the T-Pain concert that night.”
After a pause on the other end of the phone, Lopez’s mouth dropped and eyes widened. “You’re asking me to open for T-Pain, aren’t you?”
Needless to say, that’s been his favorite gig yet.
Written by Holly Paulette.
Hear more from Cody Lopez on Experience VT, a blog for Hokies, written by Hokies. On the blog, Lopez shares helpful tips and advice for incoming students.