Long before the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting anxiety and social isolation turned the spotlight on the need to support children’s social, emotional, and mental well-being, Molly McKee Lopez ’91, P’21 was working to improve mental health services for Texas’s youth. From the early days of her career as a research psychologist at the Texas Department of State Health Services to her current role as director of the Texas Institute for Excellence in Mental Health at the University of Texas at Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work, Lopez has been focused on identifying ways to better serve children with mental health challenges and their families.

“Molly has long been a champion for children’s mental health, and her work is moving the mental health system forward in ways that will have long lasting positive effects for children, their families, and the communities they live in,” says Stacey Stevens Manser, associate director of the Texas Institute for Excellence in Mental Health. “For over 20 years, she has been working to develop and implement mental health systems of care to improve children and family resilience and mental health and has conducted research on mental health best practices within those systems of care.”

After graduating summa cum laude from Southwestern with her bachelor’s degree in psychology, Lopez went on to earn her master’s degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. She served in several leadership roles within the Texas Department of State Health Services, where she provided policy and programmatic oversight of children’s mental health services and played a key role in a system redesign aimed at ensuring that evidence-based treatments were widely available and supported by state infrastructure.

“Molly is dedicated, caring, brilliant, and humble,” says her husband, John Lopez ’89, P’21. “From the time we were students, Molly was very dedicated to whatever she was doing. She was one of those students who always did the reading before class and who rewrote and outlined her notes after class. She managed to go from kindergarten to a Ph.D. with only one B, and she will still argue that she was robbed on that one.”

In addition to serving as the director of the Texas Institute for Excellence in Mental Health, which she created in 2012, Lopez is a licensed clinical psychologist and research associate professor. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals, presented at dozens of professional conferences, and served as the principal investigator on multiple grants funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and other organizations. In 2017, she received the Stella Churchill Mullins Champion for Children’s Mental Health Award. 

“Molly inspires our team to never lose sight of the people our work serves and the importance of this work in supporting others to meet their personal goals for lifelong success,” Manser says.

Lopez and her husband have been annual contributors to Southwestern for more than 20 years. The couple’s daughter, Emma Lopez ’21, is double majoring in political science and Latin American and border studies at Southwestern. Lopez also has served as a guest lecturer for the psychology department. 

“Molly is a fantastic leader and is committed to helping to grow and develop other leaders,” says Tracy A. Levins, who worked with Lopez at the Texas Department of State Health Services. “It’s one thing to be brilliant, which she is. And kind, which she is. And engaging. And warm. And creative. And all of the other wonderful qualities she exhibits on a daily basis. But to be humble, too? That’s something special. That’s Molly.”

For her outstanding contributions to children’s mental health services and dedication to Southwestern’s core values, the Southwestern University Alumni Association is proud to honor Molly McKee Lopez with the Distinguished Professional Award.