Sea Lion Spotlight of the Week: Meet Kenzie Lopez

Photo courtesy of Kenzie Lopez.

Born with one kidney, Larry Medrano discovered he had stage five kidney failure at 37 years old. His daughter, Kenzie Lopez, a second-year dietetics major at Point Loma Nazarene University, found her passion for food health in helping him combat the disease through the holistic approach of a diet and mindset change.

After seeing many specialists, Medrano transitioned to a plant-based diet, where Lopez helped prepare his meals and joined him on the diet. This helped his kidney go from 30% functionality to reversing the disease. From 2018 to 2021, Medrano did not need to go on dialysis.

“That sparked inspiration for me to heal others through food — not just medicine,” Lopez said. 

Larry Medrano and Kenzie Lopez. Photo courtesy of Kenzie Lopez

Medrano said it was difficult transitioning to the strict diet but was determined to change his life to avoid “the machine,” he said. Lopez joining him made it a little easier.

“She [Lopez] was the only one who said, ‘I’ll eat like you,’” Medrano said. “She started cooking for herself, staying off the processed foods, became vegan. We discovered this is what normal is supposed to look like.”

Inspired by the journey, Lopez said she wants to be a registered dietitian and possibly teach at or work for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). She believes there is a dire need for food education in the United States and wants to lead the march to change.

With her passion for impacting the food industry and humankind’s physical health, Lopez researched universities on the West Coast that offered a dietetics program and discovered PLNU. 

Her first campus visit was for a volleyball camp where she wanted to develop her skills for her high school volleyball season. During the visit, Lopez felt a sense of belonging. 

“I knew that was all God telling me this is where I belong,” Lopez said. “There’s so many ways to get plugged in [at PLNU] and it reminded me so much of my high school [experience], and I wanted a faith-based campus to grow into the person I wanted to become.”

Lopez grew up in a Catholic household but didn’t attend church regularly. She attended Faith Lutheran High School in Las Vegas where she felt out of place in religion classes, but developed an interest in what faith is.

“I didn’t really get into my faith until junior year of high school and I felt like I was doing it all on my own because my parents aren’t really religious,” Lopez said. “My friend took me to a church service and I fell in love with the church community.”

During high school, Lopez was a part of the volleyball and track teams, a stage manager in theater productions and an Echo leader — a student-led Bible study group. She also went on two different mission trips to Mexico.

With a calling to leadership, Lopez is grateful to PLNU and God for the opportunities to get plugged into different avenues of leadership and community. 

“I’ve been asking God to put me in places [He] knows I’ll grow and flourish in,” Lopez said. “He’s done that with ASB [Associated Student Body].”

According to Lopez, she never had an interest in serving in leadership at PLNU until her second year.

This school year, Lopez serves on the diversity committee of ASB’s senate and was elected ASB vice president for the 2024-2025 school year.

PLNU student senate’s diversity committee. Photo courtesy of Kenzie Lopez

“[PLNU] is such a small community and it’s so easy to get plugged into leadership opportunities and get to know other people individually,” Lopez said. “I’ve always been poured into, but I want to be more of a servant and mentor to others. It’s strengthened my faith.”

The inspiration to get involved with ASB stemmed from the 2023-2024 school year ASB vice president, Bailey Pickard, a third-year biology-chemistry and philosophy double major.

As Lopez’s resident assistant in Hendricks Residence Hall in her first year, Pickard suggested that she get involved with the student senate because of her love for PLNU and passion for creating change. 

“I could see the potential for her to be such an incredible leader,” Pickard said. “She isn’t afraid to speak up and make sure people’s voices who aren’t already a part of the conversation are represented.”

According to Lopez, at the beginning of the 2024 spring semester, Pickard suggested she run for ASB vice president. 

“I knew that she would be an amazing [vice president],” Pickard said. “I wanted to see the ways that she would continue all this amazing work [from student senate] in the future.”

One of the roles of the ASB vice president is leading the weekly student senate meetings and connecting with each committee. Having first-hand experience as to what being in the senate means and looks like, Lopez is prepared to lead them as vice president.

“I’m very passionate about senate and the things we can do for the student body,” Lopez said. “I want students to know that there is a student senate that is eager and hungry to hear their concerns and questions and will take action on it.” 

Her goals and excitement for this role take root in her passion for establishing a sense of belonging for the student body, especially first-year students.

“I want to let them know that there is someone who wants to make [PLNU] a safe space for them and a place of change,” Lopez said. “It’s where they live, I want them to feel comfortable with where they live.”

One change Lopez plans to bring is breaking the wall between the student senate and the student body by creating a larger social media presence to inform and community outreaches to connect with students physically about where they want to see change.

In addition to ASB, Lopez is a Team Barnabas student mentor and the treasurer for the Student Dietetics Association (SDA).

According to the PLNU website, Team Barnabas is an organization that supports first-year international students and students of color during their transition to higher education through various events and activities.

“You can tell she’s really invested in creating spaces for incoming students,” said Maya Walker, the Team Barnabas adviser. “I love her passion, work ethic and the innovative creative ideas she has.”

Lopez has also impacted the people she lives with this year in Goodwin Residence Hall.

“She has this unique ability to make people feel safe and that she’s not in a rush to be with them,” said Jong Yoon, Team Barnabas co-adviser and Goodwin Hall Resident Director via an email interview. “I believe Kenzie’s impact and legacy will be [of] one that takes the time to listen and hear people’s stories, opinions, experiences and what they hope for during their time at [PLNU].”

Lopez said ASB has prepared her with professionalism and communication skills that will benefit her for life after graduation. 

With the leadership roles that she’s held at PLNU so far, Lopez said she gives all the credit to the guidance of God throughout the journey. 

“It’s all through His strength,” said Lopez. “I really want to be a servant to Him and others at [PLNU], so having that mind and attitude has been key to being a leader on campus.”

When she’s not running around campus wearing her various leadership hats, Lopez spends her time outside being active.

She plays beach volleyball, lifts weights, does yoga, enjoys camping and loves running on Sunset Cliffs. She said she prioritizes going on daily walks to focus on her health and well-being.

“I truly believe eating well as well as moving your body, in the midst of all this busyness and chaos that is coming or will come, is so vital to making sure that you’re all in one piece and doing okay,” Lopez said. 

She hopes to run a marathon one day.

Lopez’s go-to food for energy is oatmeal with peanut butter, a chicken Caesar salad and coffee. 

She has a deep passion for cooking, especially Italian dishes. Her favorite to cook is pesto pasta.

Lopez said her father is her biggest influence and best friend. 

“He always wanted me to be the wolf, not the sheep and dominate the day and also be humble in everything that I do while also taking advantage of every opportunity that comes my way,” Lopez said.

With their heartwarming story of growing up together in their physical and mental changes to living a healthier life, Medrano said he is proud and appreciative of his daughter for how she’s been by his side.

“She’s inspired me with the way she strives to be the best version of herself on the daily,” Medrano said. “We look up to her in this household.”

Lopez will be the first in her family to graduate from a four-year university. She said being a first-generation student as well as coming from Las Vegas, which has a high presence of substance abuse, has been a motivating factor in her accomplishments. 

“I really want to be an influence on my family,” Lopez said. “Being a first [generation] student 

and having to carve out a path that’s different from [Las Vegas culture] is really big for me.”

A piece of advice Lopez would offer to first-generation students is to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing.

“Remember who you want to be an inspiration for and what kind of sacrifices you or your family have made to get you where you are,” Lopez said. “You’re not alone in it.”