Leading the Way
Profiles in Diversity: Physics Major Robert Konopa
1.31.2020 by Amanda Castro-Crist
In 1923, Texas Tech University welcomed its first class of 914 students. Since then, the university has grown to include more than 40,000 people who come from their hometowns around the world to teach, learn and work at Texas Tech.
In 2019, the university achieved official designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), an effort of the entire university community serving the needs of its diverse campus. The HSI designation makes Texas Tech eligible for up to $10 million in additional funding from the U.S. Department of Education to support the enhancement of educational opportunities for all students. As the Texas Tech community celebrates this achievement, students, faculty and staff are taking a moment to reflect not just on their own time in Raiderland, but also to celebrate those who have worked to make Texas Tech a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus.
Robert Konopa of San Antonio is a first-year student majoring in physics with an astrophysics concentration in the College of Arts & Sciences. Now entering his second semester, he's sharing highlights of his time so far at Texas Tech University.
What types of activities have you been involved in during your time at Texas Tech?
During his first semester, Konopa has been involved in several academic and social groups.
"I'm currently involved in the Texas Tech Society of Physics Students (SPS), as well as the Texas Tech Gender and Sexuality Association (GSA)," Konopa said. "I also have volunteered alongside the Black Student Association (BSA) a couple of times, although I am not a black student."
How do you personally relate to your major and/or the additional activities you have done at Texas Tech?
Konopa said his involvement in each group relates to a different aspect of his life.
"I relate SPS to my major, and GSA creates a safe space for my identity as a transgender man," he said. "I can share nerdy jokes with my fellow physics majors, and offer and gain support from those in GSA.
"BSA has given me multiple volunteering opportunities. I've volunteered with them at the Boys and Girls Club of Lubbock, Rise Academy Charter School and a local church to help others in the community."
What motivates you to continue the work you're doing at the university?
"Volunteering has always been a core value of mine," Konopa said. "It pushes me to become a better person and meet people different than myself. I am always trying to work on myself and educate myself and others; volunteering gives me that opportunity."
As Texas Tech approaches its 100th year, with a group of students, faculty and staff who are the most diverse ever, what impact do you think you and your fellow students can have in regards to creating a campus environment that reflects diversity, equity and inclusion?
Konopa said he believes students can be a major factor in educating others on different topics throughout their educational journeys, and he has ideas on how to help foster a more diverse, inclusive and equitable community at Texas Tech.
"Perhaps we could add more programs educating cisgender and heterosexual people on what it means to be LGBTQ+, or a seminar discussing the issues people of color face at Texas Tech to educate the uneducated majorities," Konopa said. "Education is the first step to increasing diversity and awareness."
Can you tell me of a faculty or staff member who made an impact on your life and your work?
"Viet Nguyen, president of GSA, has respected and educated me on the LGBTQ+ community from the moment I joined GSA," Konopa said. "She has given me advice and her full support, and motivates me to strive for the best possible person I can be."
As Texas Tech University continues to foster a culture of excellence, diversity and inclusivity, it's efforts like those from Robert Konopa that will continue to show students, faculty and staff, from here, it's possible.
This article, which has been updated, originally published at Texas Tech Today on Dec. 3, 2019.