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Graduating daughter of UNF faculty expanding family’s passion for cultural connections

Camila Lopez McCarl HeadshotGrowing up, Camila López-McCarl was exposed to the world of education through her University of North Florida faculty member parents. She often accompanied them to conferences, watched them work with students, and observed their involvement in various community-focused heritage and humanities projects. 

“My parents are the coolest people on the planet and the work they do is so important,” said López-McCarl. “They’ve raised me to always analyze everything and fight for people by taking care of my community and giving a voice to people who don’t have voices.” 

Her parents, Dr. Constanza López, an associate professor who teaches courses on Spanish language and Latin American culture and literature, and Dr. Clayton McCarl, professor of Spanish and digital humanities, are esteemed faculty in the UNF Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures Department. 

López-McCarl always enjoyed being in school and saw a future where she remained in a place of learning. However, when starting her academic journey at UNF, she did not know exactly what career she would pursue. Although she was attending the same university where her parents worked, she was determined to forge her own career path. 

“I knew that I didn’t want to go to a big school and UNF just felt perfect,” said López-McCarl. “It was big enough that it would be an interesting challenge, I already liked a lot of the faculty and loved the beautiful campus.”   

She had her eureka moment in her career path when she became a teaching assistant for the Hicks Honors College during her sophomore year.  

“I was standing in front of the classroom for the first time, and I was unbelievably nervous,” López-McCarl remembered. Then several weeks later, a student talked to her about something personal.  

“The student opened up to me emotionally, and I suddenly realized the impact I wanted to have on people’s lives and how I could be the mentor I always wanted,” she said.  

As she prepares to graduate on Friday, Dec. 15, earning a Bachelor of Arts with double major in psychology and French studies, López-McCarl knows she wants to eventually be a professor and help make universities more open to people of diverse backgrounds. 

“I think there’s a great honor in being an educator and that great educators really reach out to their students and consider the needs of their communities and help to build supportive cultural spaces,” said López-McCarl. 

Looking back on the past four years, most of her favorite memories came from her affiliation with the Hicks Honors College.  

“I met so many of my friends, and it gave me a lot of opportunities to grow,” said López-McCarl. “I remember arriving on campus and moving into my Hicks dorm and thinking ‘This is it. Let’s go!’ and I haven’t stopped since.”  

In addition to being a teaching assistant, López-McCarl studied abroad in Tours, France, and was one of the producers for “Othello” who helped translate the dialogue of some characters to their historically accurate language, further connecting her with various other cultural identities in the process. 

Camila Lopez McCarl in front of a screen that reads 'Unidos in Honors'One of the biggest impacts made on López-McCarl, and the biggest impact she feels she left on UNF, was the founding of Unidos. She co-founded the special interest group in the Honors Student Union with her freshman-year roommate, Amy Granillo, in 2020 to help facilitate a Latinx community on campus where students were given a space to find other Latinx students, speak Spanish freely and engage with people who have had familiar experiences.  

Unidos first started meeting in the middle of the pandemic over Zoom for students to play Pictionary. Once things returned to normal, the next struggle was getting students to meet in person as many had grown accustomed to keeping to themselves and did not want to go out.  

“Now that I’m a senior, we have eight board members and attendance has been off the charts,” López-McCarl said. “It’s really wonderful to see how something that had connected me with so many Latinx people on campus has become its own living thing and will be a legacy I can leave behind.”  

Hicks Honors College director Leslie Kaplan said the club became the model for other interest groups. 

“Through Unidos in Honors, Camila and her partners added to the Honors experience for everyone by creating a place for Hispanic students to find each other and provide mutual support while inviting the whole Honors community to learn about some of their cultural traditions through engaging events,” Kaplan said.  

Camila Lopez McCarl HeadshotNext, López-McCarl wants to travel outside of Florida to study Latinx studies, fine arts and creative writing, which she will bridge together to focus on how identity intersects with art and culture. 

“UNF has given me opportunities that have allowed me to explore the importance of using one's voice and finding your passion, and I’m so grateful for the experiences I’ve had here,” López-McCarl said.