When David Lopez Amaya took his first class with Associate Professor of Political Science Loren Collingwood at The University of New Mexico, it fired his enthusiasm for political science, particularly the topic of voting rights for minorities.

Lopez Amaya started with Collingwood’s voting rights class two years ago. Currently, a fourth-year senior enrolled in the shared-credit B.A./M.A. program in Political Science, he’s moved on to follow his passion for the subject of voting rights. Through the shared-credit program, he’s had the opportunity to take graduate-level coursework in the field of American Politics and Research Statistics and Methodology. Lopez Amaya also intends to graduate with a second major in Spanish and a minor in Economics.

Loren Collingwood and David Amaya
Loren Collingwood and David Lopez Amaya

“Growing up in a disadvantaged, minority community, I recognized the importance of political engagement and representation as means for our voices to be heard,” said Lopez Amaya, who is from the northern New Mexico town of Las Vegas. “I also recognized the lack of social research on communities of color like mine. When deciding on a college major, I knew I wanted to pursue a degree that would allow me to research minority communities in the field of politics.

"Amidst the decision-making process, the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and the contentious political climate of the 2020 presidential election and redistricting cycle reaffirmed my commitment to pursuing political science as my chosen major. In the fall semester of 2021, Dr. Collingwood offered a class on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and I saw this as an opportunity to learn more about redistricting and minority voting rights.”

Lopez Amaya did two independent studies with Collingwood, primarily centered on an upcoming publication titled Which Denominator? CVAP vs. VAP and When to Account for Turnout in Estimating Vote Choice by Race in Native American VRA Claims.

“As the title suggests, my research centers largely around Native American voting rights claims. Conducting research on this research topic has afforded me the opportunity to contribute to the pursuit of equitable political representation for a marginalized and overlooked community,” he explained.

“Growing up in a disadvantaged, minority community, I recognized the importance of political engagement and representation as means for our voices to be heard.”

– David Lopez Amaya, UNM Political Science major

At a recent Politics of Race, Immigration, and Ethnicity Consortium held at Arizona State University, Lopez Amaya presented his ongoing paper centered around approaches to racially polarized voting analysis in Native American voting rights claims. This paper examines various methods for addressing two significant obstacles encountered when estimating racially polarized voting (RPV) in areas where Native American vote dilution cases are most likely.

“I evaluate two questions: Does using Census-derived voting age population (VAP) or American Community Survey (ACS) citizen voting age population (CVAP) as the demographic input into statistical voting models alter results in any substantive way? And two: Is Native voter turnout systematically lower than Non-Hispanic White turnout, and what are the best ways to handle sometimes exceedingly large gaps in White vs. Native turnout when estimating RPV?” Lopez Amaya said.

Lopez Amaya noted Collingwood’s inspiration in his education at UNM.

“Dr. Collingwood has played an important role in my academic journey, serving not only as an exceptional instructor but also as a mentor,” Lopez Amaya said. “His unique approach to political science and social science research produces tangible results that have meaningful implications for the communities he researches. I am also drawn to Dr. Collingwood's research focus and expertise in Latino and Native American politics, as well as immigration policy – areas that closely align with my own academic interests and research pursuits.

"His commitment to shedding light on these topics within the discipline of political science has not only expanded my understanding of the field but has also inspired me to pursue research beyond the undergraduate level. Dr. Collingwood's guidance and the impact of his work have fueled my drive to contribute to the advancement of knowledge in these areas and advocating for equitable representation.”

“David took my voting rights class two years ago. He was so good and the best undergrad I've had in 11 years as a professor, including eight years at University of California, Riverside,” Collingwood said. “He did two independent studies with me, took a grad level stats class last year, and this year has taken several graduate courses, wrote a great paper, then presented at the conference on Politics of Race Ethnicity and Immigration Consortium at ASU.”

Lopez Amaya has submitted applications to several Ph.D. programs and has been accepted into the UNM program, Arizona State University, and the University of California, Los Angeles. He is carefully considering his options before making a final decision.

“My ultimate goal is to contribute to academia, and upon the completion of my Ph.D., I aspire to become an academic dedicated to advancing understanding and advocacy for Latino and Native American communities,” he said.

"David has taken full advantage of his time as an undergraduate student at UNM,” Collingwood said. “He has taken a range of classes both in political science and other fields that prepared him to be a top candidate for top Ph.D. programs. By getting involved in the many research opportunities, then also developing mentor relationships with many faculty members, David took advantage of what UNM has to offer and the results frankly speak for themselves."

Lopez Amaya is the son of Luis Lopez Corona, a landscaper and contractor, and Lupita Amaya Mora, a housekeeper.

“Although my parents are not political or have prior knowledge about the field of political science, they have been extremely supportive of my endeavors. As a first-generation college student with an immigrant background, making my parents proud has been at the forefront of my drive to succeed in my academics and career,” Lopez Amaya said.