Leaving Home to Grow and Develop a Career Path
Maria Elvira Lopez’21 chose Beloit College in order to grow and prepare for a career focused on environmental sustainability. Opportunities at Beloit College to apply learning in real-life settings helped land her a post-graduation job in the sector that means most to her.
When Maria Elvira Lopez’21 conducted her college search, she was motivated to explore beyond home.
“I grew up in Quito,” Maria tells us. “It has the finest universities in Ecuador. But if I remained there to attend college, everything would be familiar: family, friends, language, and culture. I wanted to go abroad to learn new things.”
Liberal arts colleges made sense as Maria desired close contact with fellow students and faculty. She ruled out colleges where students compete with each other for grades and honors, however. She preferred an environment in which students contribute to each others’ learning and success.
A recruitment visit from May Lopez’15, an alum of Maria’s high school who was working in the college’s admissions office, confirmed Beloit as a possibility.
“I could relate to May’s story about leaving Ecuador to attend college in the U.S. I was also impressed by how much she had felt at home at Beloit and even thrived there, and the fact that she’d had two majors, one in Chinese and the other international relations. That resonated with me, given my interests in the wider world.” When Beloit admitted Maria and offered her a scholarship, she immediately accepted
Today, as a program coordinator in the finance division of Conservation International, Maria is beginning a career focused on what she truly cares about: environmental sustainability. Her majors in international relations and environmental studies made her an attractive candidate, as she was familiar with international governance systems and Article 6 of the Paris Climate Agreement, both of which are relevant to the organization’s work.
Maria also stood out on the basis of the significant practical experience she had acquired while at Beloit. For example, as an assistant for Beloit’s Sustainability Channel, she led a project to distribute cloth bags so students could carry meals from the college dining service when in-person dining shut down during the pandemic. Reliance on single-use plastic carry bags was reduced. An invitation to students to decorate their bags helped ensure buy-in.
Additionally, as an outreach worker for Beloit’s Office of International Education, Maria helped connect the college community to the wider world while also sharing stories about diversity on campus. Thus, Maria published theme-based stories on the college’s website that were crowd-sourced from members of the college community, including alumni; spoke to students in the college’s first-year advising program about international education opportunities; and organized events.
Most significantly for Maria’s career development, however, was the applied work she did for a senior capstone project. Thanks to a tip from professor of international relations and environmental studies Pablo Toral, Maria applied to the World Wildlife Fund for a grant given to youth to promote environmental sustainability. The grant allowed Maria to assemble a team to organize workshops in Quito that provided community leaders with tools and resources to make their neighborhood a healthier, greener space.
“I had an incredible opportunity to apply what I had learned in my classes to a project with tangible, positive impact,” Maria shares. Maria presented the project and the related research in the college’s research symposium. The year before, she’d presented on environmental movements she’d researched while studying abroad in Moscow in the college’s experiential learning symposium.
“My experiences applying classroom learning while at Beloit, in addition to my studies, have been incredibly helpful to my current role at Conservation International. I understand the context for the organization’s work and have the organizational skills needed from me. Experience applying what you’ve been learning is everything when it comes to landing and succeeding in a post-graduation job.”
Support from faculty and staff was also invaluable. “The Conservation International staff who hired me were really impressed by how well my recommenders at Beloit knew me. I’m really grateful for their investment in me, either as faculty teaching and mentoring me or as supervisors supporting my growth in the work place.”
What’s next? Maria is taking full advantage of opportunities to learn as much as she can from the teams that work in the Finance Division, focused on carbon credits, impact investing, and conservation funds. Although she had taken a few economics courses while at Beloit, Maria had not anticipated working in the financial side of environmental work. Now, however, she’s learning just how critical that work is as she supports finance teams by gathering data and managing data bases, scheduling meetings and organizing conferences, and publishing a newsletter.
“I’ve learned how to navigate new environments even when it’s uncomfortable and I’m not an expert in the topic under discussion,” she says. After a few years of work experience, Maria plans to earn a graduate degree, having become more knowledgeable about where and how she’d like to make a difference.
That Maria is flexible, adaptable, and interested in continuing to learn is not surprising. Beloit College intentionally promotes these kinds of learning outcomes. Of course, Maria has a habit of looking for new experiences in order to grow. After all, she had never anticipated living in the U.S. Midwest before applying to Beloit College. Nor had she thought she’d learn Russian and spend a semester studying abroad in Moscow.
“Beloit College offers students many opportunities to explore, apply classroom knowledge, and become critical thinkers unafraid to jump into the unknown. Beloit teaches you skills that are incredibly helpful in both the workplace and life.”