Pathfinder Interview Series: Dr. Michelle López
I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Michelle López, an educator and featured speaker for our Pathfinder Program, about confidence, gumption, and sponsorship. Girls can hear more words of wisdom from Michelle at the Pathfinder Leadership Summit. Learn more at http://genaustin.org/what-we-do/Pathfinder/.
What do you think is the most pressing issue facing girls today?
I thought about that and the first thing that came to mind is girls just feeling like they’re enough and not having to do anything else, just being who they are. I don’t think our society fully supports that, so there’s always this idea that you have to do more, you have to do this, you have to be like so-and-so. We’ve just gotten away from the whole idea that who you are and being confident in that and comfortable in your own skin is enough. And it spills into adulthood: adult women and adult women who are pursuing careers and being moms and having families or being married and all of these things. We continue to send this message to young girls and to our women that you’re not enough and I’m not happy with that. I think that’s not the message we need to be sending.
What is it about GENaustin’s mission that speaks to you?
I really like that GENaustin focuses on young women. I think we should try to build up women in general. I’ve always worked on different projects or programs that support women and young girls’ efforts. But I think that because we’ve lost so much of a core family unit with everything — the pressures that families have and especially single-parent families — we don’t necessarily spend all of that time at such young ages giving emotional support and encouragement. And I don’t think it’s that parents in general are saying ‘Oh, no. I’m not going to do that’. They’re tired, they have a lot going on. So, I want to really concentrate on those critical ages when young girls are building their self-esteem and who they are and just starting to recognize they have a voice. I love that we’re trying to provide an outlet for their mental support through GENaustin.
What advice would you give to a girl who wants to pursue a career in your field?
I consider my field to be education, even though it’s higher education and I work both in the classroom and outside the classroom. Being an educator is what I do, and I think education is not for everyone. I think someone who really wants to is going to have a passion and a desire to work with others, build them up, connect them to resources, and connect them to ways that set them up for success. If somebody is interested in that, then I encourage them to always challenge themselves to find new ways to set themselves up for success, to learn new skills, and then connect with other people who are doing things that they want to do and just find out why they do it and how they got there. I think every time you learn more from someone else’s journey, it really can impact you personally to think ‘Huh, I think I like that’ or ‘I don’t think I want to do it that way, I think there’s another way to do it.’ So, there’s always something to take back by connecting with others and just finding those people to ask questions about. We ask our freshmen in our freshman seminar class at Texas State to do an informational interview with someone in their field during their first semester of college. And that’s what I would encourage young ladies to do: find someone who’s doing what you want to do. Find those educators and ask them questions — how they got there and what they recommend for you to do.
What leadership qualities do you admire in a person?
I know that this isn’t necessarily a term, but gumption is probably the best way to categorize it. I look at someone who is willing to say ‘I may not know how to do this, but I’m willing to move forward and figure it out, I’m willing to ask questions and I’m willing to put myself in a position of learning so that I can improve the situation, I can improve myself.’ So, you could say that. You could also say initiative. You know, just someone who’s going to take the initiative to do that and not sit back waiting for someone to hand it to them. When you take initiative, you have to be vulnerable. You have to be able to also, at times, say ‘I don’t know this so can you help me?’ So, that would be the leadership quality I’m looking for and I would admire in someone.
What successful woman inspires you, and why?
You know, the first person who came to mind was my mom. She definitely was always the leader in her own field. She’s an educator, more of the elementary school age. I just always admired that she was always good at what she did. She focused on her job when she was there, but she also focused on us as a family — my dad, my brother and myself — when she was home and gave us that attention and always had positive encouraging words for me when I was growing up. There was never a time that I can recall her saying ‘Oh you shouldn’t do that’ or ‘No, you shouldn’t try that.’ It was always like ‘Oh yea, go on ahead, what do we need to do to make sure you get there?’ She was always my supporter.
There’s a new book that’s come out talking about the difference between mentoring and sponsoring, and that you need mentors but you also need sponsors. You need people who will be out there, and when somebody asks for names of people who can do X, Y, or Z, then that person who is a sponsor of yours can say ‘I know this person who knows that and I can vouch for them.’ So, it’s kind of like what men have done in their networks for ages, and getting women to do that for each other. I can see my mom was probably my very first sponsor. She sponsored me in a lot of ways when she would find connections or things in the community or opportunities for me. She just did it naturally because it was her passion, and I see that she did that for so many other people, it wasn’t just me. Now that I look back and I have learned more about her career and what she achieved in the community, she was like that for everybody.
Why are you passionate about girls’ issues?
I think it stems from my relationship with my mom and the fact that I was very fortunate. Like I said, there were never moments I can recall in my life when I thought ‘She’s not going to support me.’ My dad was right there too, but I think the mom-daughter relationship can be really tricky at times, particularly when you’re growing up and you’re trying to find your own way and your own boundaries. So, I was always confident that there were going to be things that were going to work out and I was going to find the way. When I see young ladies today — even when my niece was growing up and there were moments when I thought ‘She’s not as self-confident about some of these things as I recall being’ — they don’t need to have those feelings or moments. What can I do to help alleviate that so they’re assured of themselves? Because that’s really a huge foundation for being able to overcome any obstacle. I want young girls to know that feeling and to be self-assured. Yea, you may not know all the answers but you’re going to find them, you’re going to find the good way to do it because you are capable of accomplishing that.
What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?
I chuckled, I thought ‘Oh my gosh, let me think back to being 13!’ I will say a couple of things came to mind for me. One was that even though you want to be confident, it is okay to ask for help and asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of trying to learn and find the best course of action. I think a lot of times, we don’t ask for help because we think we are going to be viewed as being less than or weaker, particularly for women when you’re trying to make your stand or make your place known. And the other thing I would tell my 13-year-old self is to remember that prayer is important and powerful and a spiritual life is an important component of who you are going to be. It has been an important component of my life and having that foundation has helped me in difficult times.
Dr. Michelle M. López is an educator and community leader. Her professional career has spanned 20 years in a variety of roles within higher education ranging from adjunct faculty to student affairs administrator. She has experience leading programs and services in several areas, including retention initiatives, leadership development, student organizations, social Greek organizations, volunteer services, cultural programs, non-traditional students, university housing and town/gown relations. As an active volunteer within her community, she has served on the Executive Board for the United Way of Hays County and as Chair of the Education and Talent Committee for the Kyle Area Chamber of Commerce. Elected to a three-year term as the at-large District 1 Representative to the Kyle City Council, Dr. López served two of those years as Mayor Pro Tem. She also served on the Hays CISD Board of Trustees in 2014. Presently, her involvement includes serving on the Hays CISD Education Foundation Board of Directors, Lector at St. Anthony Marie de Claret Catholic Church, and Alumnae Panhellenic Delegate for the Austin Area Alumnae Chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi. She is also a member of the editorial board for the online professional journal, Student Affairs on Campus. A native Texan, originally from Fort Worth, Dr. López earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Government with a minor in Spanish from Texas Woman’s University. She also received an M.Ed. in Counseling and Guidance, with an emphasis in College Student Affairs from Texas State University. Her Ph.D. in Education Administration is from Texas A&M University. Dr. López and her husband, Ruben, currently reside in Central Texas, along with their five-year-old son.