BVU World Traveler Impacts Lives in Guatemala

Spanish, graphic design double-major, Makensie (Brown) López, used international experiences in college as a springboard for career in communications, development, and more.

An interest in travel nurtured at Buena Vista University helped put Makensie (Brown) López on a career arc stretching tens of thousands of miles from her native Iowa.

“BVU stood out for the opportunities it provided and for its prevalence of scholarships, which was also key,” says López, a 2014 BVU graduate who majored in Spanish and graphic design.

BVU’s commitment in those areas continues as nearly 200 internship and experiential learning opportunities take students across Iowa, the U.S., and to dozens of countries around the world each year. Additionally, some $15 million provided by BVU benefactors funds scholarships for hundreds of students each year, leading U.S. News and World Report to rank BVU No. 4 in “Best Value” among Regional Universities in the Midwest, 28 spots ahead of its closest Iowa competitor.

“I’ve fallen in love with nonprofits whose work focuses on improving the quality of life in vulnerable areas.”

Makensie (Brown) López

Dedicated faculty bring those variables together while connecting students to those life-altering experiences. For López, it was Jamii Claiborne, BVU Associate Professor of Digital Media, who challenged López to apply for a fellowship that ultimately sent her to Nepal, one of her many opportunities abroad during her time at BVU.

“Jamii pushed me to look into areas I hadn’t even considered,” says López, who serves as Director of International Resource Development for Habitat for Humanity Guatemala. “I think Jamii knew more about what I wanted than I did at the time.”

López also studied in Granada for six months. She traveled throughout Europe and joined a BVU group visiting the southern tip of Chile, a country in which she’d ultimately reside while working.

“I started in Guatemala two weeks after I graduated from BVU,” says López, a native of Huxley in central Iowa. “After working for a year in Guatemala, I spent two years working in Chile, then returned to Guatemala, where I’ve been for the past three years.”

Makenzie (Brown) Lopez, 2014 BVU graduate

López, who started her career in communications, using graphic design and Spanish skills honed during her BVU experience, transitioned into volunteer management, and now serves in donor relations, directing Habitat’s International Resource Development Department.

“Our work is to empower individuals, providing them with affordable mortgages so that they can pay for their own homes,” she says, citing the fact their work supplements the income Habitat is able to receive from mortgage payments.

Seventy international visits bring volunteer homebuilders to Guatemala throughout the year, aiding an organization that executes some 12,000 housing solutions per year, ranging from home structures to latrines to water distribution systems, and more.

The work is often a godsend for residents of a country where 61 percent of the population is classified as impoverished, often earning $1 to $3 per day.

“I’ve fallen in love with nonprofits whose work focuses on improving the quality of life in vulnerable areas,” says López, who also fell in love with Guatemalan Joaquin López, an architect for Habitat for Humanity, whom she wed in January.

“We had a wonderful ceremony, as family and friends joined us in our town of Quetzaltenango, in the highlands,” the bride says. “Several of my family members and friends were able to travel here for the wedding as it took place before the pandemic, which restricted travel.”

López says the ceremony represented a mixing of cultures, including the Meneaito, a dance of choreographed moves famous in Guatemala.

And while maybe the “Beaver Train,” (BVU’s choreographed claim to fame) didn’t prepare this alum for her wedding dance, BVU’s instruction, its coverage of the concepts, the awareness, and the sensitivities to and for people in all parts of the world had an impact on López, a point of emphasis she puts to great use for the benefit of those in need.

“My education has given me the tools to be where I’m at today,” she says. “I always encourage students to take advantage of the many opportunities you find at BVU.”