Latino Studies Seniors Recognized for Outstanding Achievements

Author: Oliver Ortega

A group of students affiliated with the Institute for Latino Studies have been recognized by the university for their achievements during their undergraduate careers.

Odalis Gonzalez recently received the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. award, one of the highest honors given to graduating seniors. Every year, the selection committee chooses an individual who has advanced the “climate of welcome and inclusion within or beyond the University community” throughout their time on campus.

Odalis Gonzalez Headshot

Odalis, a double major in Psychology and Latino Studies with a minor in Education, Schooling and Society, fought back tears as she was introduced by fellow senior Aaron Benavides. But the Idaho native was all smiles as she received the award from Erin Hoffman Harding, Notre Dame’s Vice President for Student Affairs.

Odalis was nominated by Professor Karen Richman, Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Institute for Latino Studies. Prof. Richman noted Odalis’ involvement with a student club advocating for immigrant rights (SCIA); her work tutoring Latino youth and children; her mentoring of younger Notre Dame students; and her work with fellow students with disabilities.

“Her thesis is inspired by her own experience growing up in rural Idaho, as the daughter of Mexican immigrant farmworkers who toil in Idaho’s potato fields and packing houses” Richman said.

“Odalis has clearly made the most of these [educational] opportunities, and she wants to give back to others, especially Latinx youth like herself, to bolster their educational opportunities...Odalis’ dedication and effectiveness as a student organizer, volunteer and advocate make her deserving of this leadership award.”

For his part, Aaron Benavides, a merit scholar in the Latino Studies Scholars Program (LSSP), was honored with the Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C., leadership award. The award recognizes a graduating senior who demonstrates “significant effort to advance the Catholic character of the University.”


Aaron, of Corpus Christi, Texas, is a Political Science major with minors in Theology; Digital Marketing; and Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy. As a junior, he interned for the London-based Roman Catholic weekly magazine, the Catholic Herald

As a rising sophomore, Aaron spent the summer at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., an opportunity made possible by ILS’s Cross-Cultural Leadership Program (CCLP).

“We knew from the first time we met Aaron in our LSSP interviews that he was a committed Catholic who would contribute directly to the Catholic community at Notre Dame,” says Professor Luis Ricardo Fraga, Director of the Institute for Latino Studies. “He has done that in so many ways.”

Aaron’s experience organizing the V National Encuentro for Catholic Bishops --- the first such gathering in 35 years --- was featured in a 2018 story.

Another student that has been recognized is Jennifer Moreno-Mendoza, a junior from Irving, Texas, who was given the Hipp-Beeler Scholarship. Jennifer is a Marketing major with minors in Latino Studies and Catholic Social Teaching.

Jennifer Moreno Mendoza Headshoto

The award gives students funds towards tuition and other costs their senior year. It was established in 1992 following the fatal crash of two Notre Dame swimmers. 

Last fall, Jennifer was part of a group of 20 students who received training in community organizing based on Latino spirituality. The inaugural ILS Leadership Development Workshops are organized in partnership with the Coalition for Spiritual and Public Leadership, a nonprofit in the Chicago-area that frequently partners with the Institute for Latino Studies.

Last but not least, sophomore Lindsey Reina has been invited to present her preliminary research findings at Johns Hopkins University. 

Lindsey Reina Headshot

Lindsey, a Political Science and Latino Studies double major from Atlanta, has been conducting independent research with Professor Richman on policy-making related to sexual violence in Colombia, the country from which her family hails. In addition, this coming summer she will participate in ILS’s Cross Cultural Leadership Program.
As for her research, she’s particularly interested in parsing through the role of machismo in sexual violence. Ultimately, she hopes to travel to Colombia or another Spanish-speaking country for field research and live there for one or two years, before heading off to Law School.

“Lindsey is very bright,” Richman said. “She has deep intellectual curiosity...she approached her research problem with such enthusiasm and dedication. It was a joy to watch her delve deeper and deeper into her research to understand the complex causes of gender hierarchy and violence in her grandparents’ homeland in Colombia."