20 for 20: Ellerina Lopez


Tell us a little about yourself: where did you go to college, what was your first job out of college, and what do you do now?
I was in the first class of Scholars at Albany High School. As a high school senior, I earned the opportunity to participate in a program called “Education Explorations”. Through this program, I spent most of my senior year at The College of Saint Rose learning about becoming a teacher. I shadowed elementary and middle school teachers and worked with the Superintendent of Albany Public Schools on a group project to “build a school”. From that experience I decided I wanted to become a teacher and began my college career in 2001 at The College of Saint Rose.

I started out with a dual major in Special and Elementary Education. After my first semester, I decided that Special Education was not what I was meant to do and changed my major to Secondary Education with a focus on Social Studies. It wasn’t until I took some elective courses that I started to realize that I had more of an interest in Business and Administration, so I changed majors again. I graduated in 2007, three weeks shy of having my first child, with my Bachelors of Science in Business Administration.

I began working in the retail/sales industry on management track programs until I decided to pursue my Masters of Business Administration (MBA). During this time, I was recruited as the Health Services Coordinator at my alma mater. I held that position from 2010-2015, and I graduated with my MBA in Class of 2013. My work as the Health Service Coordinator sparked my interest in the healthcare field, which led me back to school to complete my Associates of Science in Nursing. Amidst completing my nursing education, I accepted a position with Albany Medical Center as a Practice Coordinator for the EmUrgentCare location in Brunswick, NY.

I opened and have managed all operations of that site and provided administrative support for six other sites for the last two years. I’ve been involved in business analytics for our division, policy development, regulatory audits and emergency preparedness for the division. I was licensed to practice nursing in the summer of 2017 and am currently the lead trainer for Advanced Cardiac Life Support and Basic Life Support for the EmUrgentCare division.

How have your dreams or goals for yourself changed since you were in high school?
In high school I saw my future self teaching elementary or secondary school students. I wanted to be the teacher who inspired students and fostered a love of learning. Although I did not turn out to be a teacher in that regard, I thoroughly enjoy my role as an educator when it comes to training staff, parenting my three children and presenting ideas and proposals for new ways of doing things in my current role. In that sense, I feel I have achieved that dream even if not in the sense I had originally thought.

Do you think your high school self would be surprised or impressed by your current occupation?
I am certain that my high school self would have been shocked to think that I would have ever worked in a sales capacity. Although not a salesperson by profession, some of my strongest skills as a leader are rooted in my experience on a sales floor. My high school self would have also never dreamed that I would be the mother of three, but in all of my accomplishments I feel most proud when I see my children excel and demonstrate values that I have modeled for them. Hearing them say “Mom, I am proud of you” is the greatest accomplishment I could ever experience.

What was the most important thing that you learned from Sponsor-A-Scholar?
Coming from a less than ideal family situation and being molded by a series of unfortunate circumstances, as a young adult I was very apprehensive about altruism or the idea of good intentions truly being good intentions. Facing the world thinking that I was all I had or could depend on was scary and was also sometimes enough to wonder “why work so hard when fate would already have you set to fail”? Sponsor-A-Scholar pushed that comfort limit for me and showed me that people do care; there are people who reward dedication and commitment and want nothing in return other than to share in your success story. The benefits that Sponsor-A-Scholar provided were two-fold. They gave me opportunities and financial resources that I may not have otherwise had but, more importantly, I learned about life and I gained pride in my personal success, which is more than a check can provide.

What’s one thing/person that helped you reach where you are now?
I have to say that my children are my driving force. Knowing that any failure I faced they too would face and any acceptance of circumstance that I made would show them that what they tolerate or settle for creates their standards was enough for me to never stop working hard. Have I fallen in life? Sure. Have I failed or faced defeat or hard times? Of course. Teaching them by example that everything in life is a choice and every choice has a circumstance motivated me to always make tomorrow better than today.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome to earn your degree(s)?
Most of my college life I did not have much personal support. Being my own advocate was always very hard. Making an excuse for giving up is always tempting and truthfully very easy to do. Being diligent in the face of financial hardship, physical strain, or emotional stressors is a true test of character and it’s a test you don’t pass just once.

How did you overcome that challenge?
Promising myself to never move backwards and to always finish anything I committed to start.

Did you ever feel like you didn’t belong in college? If so, what did you do to overcome that feeling?
Every day. I was married and pregnant with my first child before my undergrad graduation. I did not live on campus and did not experience what most other undergrads did. I had what I felt like were a whole different set of responsibilities and obligations. I always reminded myself of what I felt was important:  finishing my degree. Once I had a goal, none of those feelings would matter and no one could take away my drive.

How did having a mentor (either in Sponsor-A-Scholar or elsewhere) help you in college and beyond?
My mentor from Sponsor-A-Scholar and I could not have been more opposite! She was very much older (post-retirement age), came from a wealthy background, and spent her career helping people like me not living like people like me. I thought that she would never be able to understand, never be able to level with me – I hated the idea of even having to meet with her at first. To my surprise, she was a phenomenal listener and excellent at giving me things to think about that I otherwise may not have considered. She taught me the value of looking at things from many different perspectives.

Did you seek out mentors in college or as you’ve built your career? How have you done this?One of my former bosses inadvertently became a mentor for me. We shared many personal similarities and paths in life. We talked about careers, development and personal growth. I consulted with her for advice and maintain a personal friendship with her to this day, now seven years later. She taught me diplomacy, self-preservation and effective leadership methods.

If you could go and talk with your 18-year-old self about where you are now, what would you tell her? What would you tell yourself about the path that it took to get where you are now?
There are quotes that resonate with me always and I wish my teenage self had known them and truly could appreciate what they meant. I will admit I don’t recall where all of them came from but:

“Flying is simple. Not hitting the ground is hard”-- A fortune cookie

“Falling feels like flying until you hit the ground” – Chris Stapleton

“If you don’t stand for something you will fall for everything” – A Special Person

What does Sponsor-A-Scholar mean to you now that you have several college degrees?
It is a reminder that no matter what you have or don’t have – what you CHOOSE to do with yourself determines the kinds of opportunities you will have.

If you could say one thing to your sponsor, what would it be?
People work their whole lives building success, seeking to attain financial stability and means to provide a better future for themselves and their families – thank you for the generosity to share a piece of what you have worked so hard for me. Your gift was offered in the hopes that I would benefit from the fruits of your labor and plant seeds of my own. Sharing your success is a testament to your value for rewarding hard work and I truly hope that my success demonstrates my appreciation and that it was put to use wisely.”

What would you tell your mentor?
I have learned that people have personalities like onions – on the surface they are pretty simple but beneath that there are many layers (experiences, emotions, thoughts, sides, conflicts, etc.) that you only see as each layer is uncovered. It is only when someone gets through those many layers that one can really understand another person. Taking the time and patience to “peel back” layers of a person and truly learn everything that makes them who they are is a commitment and shows genuine interest which not all people are willing to invest in others. Thank you for not being afraid of the onion – even if you didn’t get to peel back all the layers – you didn’t shy away from the fact that they were there.

As a graduate of the program, how do you (plan to) give back to Sponsor-A-Scholar - to help the next generation of students?
I am hopeful that I may be able to initiate a corporate sponsorship through my employer. I also look forward to opportunities to speak to future or current students and perhaps have even just a few of my words of wisdom end up in their reflections to themselves when they are asked these same questions.

Thank you Ellerina! What an inspiring story!