But this engineer for the Navy is changing that, and others are taking notice.
In October of last year, Lopez, who is the utilities and energy management supervisory general engineer for Naval Facilities Engineering Command, took home one of the two Brillante Awards at the 38th annual Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists (MAES) conference.
This honor is given to a person in the public and private sector for their work as a positive role model for Latinos within the science, technology and mathematics fields.
Lopez was nominated by the office of the Resident Officer in Charge of Construction at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, which was approved by the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC).
For the last three years, Lopez had worked on highly visible projects at MCAS Miramar. His most recent work dealt with a $103 million hangar for the Marine Corps' new MV-22 aircraft.
“I wasn't the only one working on it,” Lopez said. “It was a team of construction managers. I was mostly working on the concrete paving, which demanded (to withstand) high temperatures (from the MV-22 aircraft) and it was a new (process) for the Navy. I worked and coordinated with research developers, contractors and engineers.”
Lopez is also a mentor for interns coming through NAVFAC. He has provided them training and oversight on the management of several construction projects. He also trained interns on how to perform engineering calculations, material take-offs and environmental planning on projects for the Navy.
“I didn't want them to feel lost,” Lopez said of the interns. “I know I felt like that when I was in school and right after graduation.”
Noting the absence of a mentor growing up, Lopez said, “I wish I had one.”
His biggest support came from his grandmother, who helped raise him. “She was like my mom,” he said.
What pushed him to succeed in school was that he didn't want to end up like his dad.
“He was a dishwasher for so many years,” Lopez said. “I wanted something better myself.”
But he also had people watching over him and seeing his potential, especially in high school where his counselor gave him the opportunity to interview for and be awarded a trip to Camp Enterprise in the Palomar Mountains.
“It was a whole week where they taught us business and entrepreneurial skills,” Lopez said. “I guess [my counselor and teachers] saw the potential in me.”
He was also recognized at Point Loma High School as one of the top students in his graduating class.
He was the first person in his family to attend and graduate from college. He was accepted into San Diego State University and received his bachelor's degree in civil engineering in 1996.
“I've always been interested in math and science -- and construction,” Lopez said. “I like to build things.”
Lopez has spent about half his life in San Diego and Mexico. He was born in a city called Altamirano in the southern state of Guerrero, Mexico.
Lopez recalled times when, as a child, he would build little houses, roads and bridges out of ice cream sticks.
“I still remember as a kid I liked to draw whole cities,” Lopez said. “I guess I have always been attracted to construction and planning.”
A good chunk of his professional career has been on the private side of construction, working at companies such as: Dokken Engineering, Wagner Construction, P&D Consultants, Latitude 33 Planning & Engineering and Stevens Cresto Engineering.
He has worked on commercial and residential land development projects, in addition to some public sector jobs. He was on the consulting and engineering team that helped the California Department of Transportation seismically retrofit bridges and columns for San Diego County freeways.
A little over three years ago, Lopez jumped to the public sector and went to work for the Navy.
Lopez is also an active member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, along with the Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists. He says he likes to be involved because there are not that many Latinos in his field, and he wants to give back in any way he's able.
Because of his background, experience and eagerness to better himself and others, Lopez has been recognized and given opportunities to move ahead in his career.
After he won the Brillante award in October, he was promoted to utilities and energy management supervisory general engineer for NAVFAC. He is now in charge of 14 people, including 11 mechanical, electrical and civil engineers; two technicians; and a computer drafting professional.
“It was a position that opened up and I saw the potential to move up and advance in my career,” Lopez said. “I wanted to [hone] my [skills] as a supervisor and manager of people because most of my experience has been on the technical side.”
His team will be in charge of the water, steam, boilers and chillers, and electricity distribution systems that will develop plans (such as scheduling and estimating) to execute repairs and replacement of pipes and other materials for Naval Base Coronado, Naval Base Point Loma, Naval Base San Diego, MCAS Miramar and several satellite offices in the county.