UTEP MBA Blog
Claudia Lopez: Don’t be Afraid to Aspire
September 20, 2019
Claudia Lopez is a graduate of the UTEP Executive MBA Program. A chemical engineer by trade, Lopez worked as Director of Business Coaching for the El Paso Chamber before accepting a position at Veolia as its plant manager. Claudia earned her EMBA in August 2018. She sat down with COBA News to discuss her time in the program, her career as an engineer and the importance of mentorship and advocacy.
Why did you choose UTEP’s Executive MBA?
I decided to pursue my EMBA because I had been in the industry for about 10 years and I wanted the opportunity to surround myself with leaders and emerging talent [in their respective fields]. I wanted to be in a setting where I could be mentored and learn from other leaders.
I had a lot of professional experience out of town, but I did not know many people in El Paso. My Executive MBA cohort was my first true network in the region.
An attractive feature of the program was the five-year managerial experience requirement. I really liked that because it fostered a different type of learning experience. I gained a lot through my cohort. They really were the best.
What was your cohort experience like?
Going to school at Notre Dame, I had never really experienced higher education in El Paso, I just had a perception of it. I felt very blessed with my cohort because each person brought to the table their own experience, intelligence and worldview, which was what I was hoping and expecting when I enrolled in the program.
This great group of people who – on top of being highly intelligent and motivated – were kind and driven in their work and personal lives. They are the people I like to associate with and I can call any one of them for anything.
Our [International Research Course] trip to Italy was a great experience that really bonded us. That bond began in class, developed and strengthened throughout the program, and continues to this day.
How have you faced challenges as an engineer?
A former boss once told me, “You are a female, you are Hispanic” and that caught me off guard. Yes, those are all the things people see me as, but I told him if I counted all the things that could hold me back, I would not have come as far as I have.
You are alone sometimes – the first, in some cases – and that is OK. Sometimes you’re the one walking in the wilderness, but you’re quietly leaving a path for others in your wake.
One of my personal goals is to help people understand what can be done and help them see past the limiting beliefs we place on ourselves. It is our responsibility to lift each other up and, in my own way, I want to expose others to the concept that engineers do not have to fit into a certain role.
What’s the most exciting aspect about your position as plant manager with Veolia?
I’m excited to dive back into the world of pure chemical engineering, because, until now, I had never fully been in that world. Previously, I had worked in food manufacturing, which is tangentially connected to chemical engineering. Now, I am in an environment that takes full advantage of my degrees and experience.
As plant manager, I work with a byproduct of the refinery process – and safely turn it into a liquid. From an environmental aspect, we work to make our processes safer and better. There is a high level of responsibility that comes with the role that is exciting. It’s simply another challenge.
Mentorship and advocacy are very important to you. What advice do you have for undergraduates who are looking for mentors of their own?
Don’t be afraid to aspire. I was the first one in my family to leave El Paso; the first to get an engineering degree; and now, an MBA. People often think we are the product of your environment, but what I figured out is we are a product of your expectations. I think that if you believe in yourself enough, you will accomplish what you want.
I don’t want my daughter to deal with the same things I deal with today. I want to help create positive and nurturing work environments as the normal standard, so even if I can make a small changes and remain in [chemical engineering] for my whole career, I am really excited to do that.