OHIO: When did you know that continuing your education was something that you wanted to do?
Elisette: In 1995 when my middle brother received his Masters in Chemical Engineering at the University of Akron. Being the youngest of 5 and the only female, I established a life long-term goal, as a child, to do better in all areas of life than each one of them. There is an 8 to 12 year age difference between my siblings and me. When I asked my middle brother what year he graduated with his masters, he shared that he started his doctorates as well. Guess what that means?
OHIO: Why did you decide to start the Online Master of Business Administration program? What concentration did you choose?
Elisette: I did extensive research on which online program to choose. Ohio University was the one that was the best fit and the one I knew that offered me the best chance of being successful, as well as completing with all my other obligations.
I had earned dual Bachelors Degrees in Business Administration in Marketing Management and International Business at The University of Akron in 2005. I never anticipated such a long gap from undergrad to masters, but life has a way of not going quite as we plan. 13 years, 4 kids, and 1 divorce later, the door opened for me to enter the online MBA program at Ohio University and I ran through it. At one point in my life, I remember having dreams of being back in school and when I would wake up, reality set in. I did not have an income which meant no way to pay the application fee. Achieving my Master’s Degree was completely out of scope but hard situations can change over time and dreams do come true.
OHIO: What made you choose that concentration from OHIO’s MBA program?
Elisette: I came to a point in my life where I was finally independent, and I could not stand my pay grade. I observed other lifestyles within my department and knew I wanted a change. As a single mom of 4, I determined I could either marry a CEO like my coworkers or become a CEO. I decided to pursue becoming a CEO.
I have been in business since I was 9, able to run my father’s grocery store by 16 from inventory to negotiations with vendors, logistics to record keeping. It is in my blood. Now I have the knowledge that I need to bring it all together and not feel inferior to anyone else.
OHIO: Was there any inspiration behind getting your MBA?
Elisette: My father, Miguel Lopez Sr., will always be my inspiration. I was fortunate enough to have many moments of him giving me wisdom in the form of simple truths. One of then being, “Go to school and get your degree, so you do not have to work as hard as I me”. I watched my father work from 7 am to 10 pm every day and 8 am to 7 pm on Sunday to support my mom, me and my brothers. He succeeded in living “The American Dream”. He owned his own grocery store and rental units that are still have in our family today. He migrated to the US from Puerto Rico in the 1940s.
What I did not realize as a child were the obstacles my father had to overcome to provide for us. He left Puerto Rico with only a 2nd-grade education. He was not the best in speaking or reading English. I would have never known my father had been illiterate and I would watch him teach himself to read the newspaper and improve every day, in the store he purchased, owned, and operated. I watched him add the profit margin and the taxes to the groceries, in his head, quicker than I could with a calculator with addition and subtraction. Since I was the youngest and there was a large gap between my youngest brother and me, I worked in the store alone with him while my brothers were off in college or military. He always placed getting an education as a top priority.
I asked my father one time, “How did you acquire so many rental properties”? His answer was, “The banks were giving out loans and I went.” I did not know until later about the prevalent racism when banks would not give out loans to African Americans and Hispanics during that time. I did not know of the struggle when Blacks and Hispanics were constantly denied renting a home or apartment because of the color of their skin. When my father had his rental units, I saw him have mercy on everyone when they fell on hard times as they rented from him. Business is not solely about generating a positive cash flow or increasing net profit margin, it is about being in the position to help people, like my father so accurately displayed. My father will always be my inspiration.
OHIO: How did you juggle a family and continuing your education?
Elisette: Working a full-time job and being a single mother of 4 and managing the MBA program was a serious challenge but having a strong support system and extreme focus is key. After spending most of my adult life in a toxic marriage, I knew all too well that I can not afford another day with that type of energy-sucking poison in my life, I need to be productive. Let all the people who bring you down go for good. YOU ARE WORTHY OF MORE!!!
My children understood the importance of what I was doing and saw me stress out a lot more than I care to admit but they supported me. Many look at being a single mother of 4 kids as a weakness or a handicap. I can tell you that my children are my strength. At 44 years old, I feel my life is just beginning. I was able to get my master’s with the help of the Lord, my faith, a good support system, and the support of 4 amazing future world changers.
OHIO: Explain what it is like to be a first-generation college graduate.
Elisette: Being a first-generation means being able to take advantage of an opportunity that was not forwarded to your family prior. Being first-generation means fighting and clawing your way to making life better for your loved ones. Being first-generation means you have been given the opportunity to rise about all the obstacles that have come your way. Being the first-generation means a better you to influence all the people you touch. Being first-generation means you are automatically loved and embraced by others that understand the struggle. After becoming the first-generation student, you recognize the people who rooted for you and helped you and cheered you on to success even though you did not fully understand why when they were doing it when they were. I am so thankful for all who were in academia believing in me.
The high school I graduated from was ranked a 2 out of 10 when it came to performance standards. I graduated at the top of my class but when I started college I was not focused, equipped, prepared and had no development of proper study habits and did not have any money. I was one bad decision away from abject poverty during my teens and 20’s. I could have ended up living a totally different life and be in the same place where my origin story began. I must ask myself, why is it the year 2020 and I am first gen? Higher education has been around since the 1600’s. The playing field for minority students is not level or fair but my father made his wishes clear of all his children to seek higher education. I constantly fight for my children to receive a better education and they do not understand why I am so passionate about it.
I know receiving an MBA stays in the news about ROI not being worth it but from my perspective, the knowledge that was given was great but the confidence that I now have is not quantifiable. I cannot measure it, but I can tell you with 100% assurance, I will be successful. When I do decide to pursue my doctorate, I will be the first-ever in my family to have attained one. I know I do not need one but shattering glass ceilings is what I must do for someone else to come behind me and shatter a higher ceiling.
OHIO: What was an unexpected surprise/benefit you discovered while going through the program or after you graduated?
Elisette: The MBA gives me the voice (confidence) that I need to be the businesswoman I am. Life is funny in the paths that it takes you. I have been fired from jobs and lived under threat of being fired, belittled by men with less education and competence. I have learned lessons on who and who not to be, as a manager and subordinate, my experiences, and observations. Culturally, as a Puerto Rican American woman, we are inherently taught to be submissive and not speak up but now I know that my voice has weight. Now I can walk proudly into any room with my head held high as an educated Latina woman from Lorain, Ohio.
OHIO: What are your career goals/plans?
Elisette: Being an entrepreneur was instilled in me from an early age by seeing my father do it. I came into the MBA program as an owner and CEO of my LLC called Zepol Enterprise. I formed it and established it many years ago. Now I have the keys and knowledge to grown it and help more people. There will be two more B Corps that I will form and establish and grow as well. I could see the ideas and concepts and plans come together in my head while going through the MBA program. My plan is to carry my father’s caring legacy while building my own legacy to pass onto my children, who will pass on to their children and so on. Helping the masses is always the goal. Can’t be too detailed on this one but I have big plans.