Vamos Talks with Sendy López
Vamos Foods sat down with Sendy López, the program director for the field study capstone program at the Anderson School of Management at UCLA. through out the conversation, Sendy shares her experience growing up in Los Angeles, and stepping out of her comfort zone to pursue more growth. As both a woman and a person of color, Sendy shares how she fights imposter syndrome while finding empowerment in both her personal life and professional career.
Growing up in LA
Both of my parents are from Guatemala, which is in Central America. I grew up going there every two years, but I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I was walking distance from Downtown! I lived there before the Staple Center was built. I am a true LA born and raised!
It was great growing up in LA, but I explain to people that it was a little bit sheltering for me, in a funny way. I grew up all around the Latino community- my community is known as the Pico Union Community in Los Angeles. And they are predominantly Central American. So you see bakeries, restaurants, stores that cater to the kinds of food that we eat. Everyone I went to school with looked like me and spoke Spanish. I didn't know I had an accent until I went to college and somebody pointed it out, and I said “Oh, really?”
Getting out of the bubble
So going to college (I went to UC Berkeley) was a big culture shock for me, because it was the first time I had been away from home. I didn't realize how different things were because my whole community had been Latino. I grew up in my little bubble.
I think it was very necessary to leave my bubble. I didn't learn English until I started to go to preschool at four years old. There are VHS recordings of me not knowing how to say parts of the face in English, which is really cute. My mom spoke to me in English and my dad in Spanish, so when I finally got to leave, I got to test the waters.
I didn't realize how sheltered I had been by being in my safe little bubble- knowing that I could speak Spanish everywhere, finding the food that I liked all the time. My biggest experience was when I was in the dorm food hall, and there was a salad bar. I was just putting stuff on my salad, and I saw something that I thought was queso fresco. It was the early 2000s and tofu wasn’t as prevalent as it is now. It wasn't known to me... and then I tasted it. Oh gosh, I had no idea what I was eating. I remember saying, ‘Oh my God, I'm not home anymore'.
College was exciting for me, because I finally got to meet people that I used to see on TV that I didn't get to be with. Going to college really put into perspective how diverse LA is a city.
Explaining the generational shift
I'm always thinking about how different my experiences growing up as a Latina was compared to the experience of my brothers who are ten and eight years younger than me. I think that society changed to be more inclusive, and I think that when I was growing up, it was definitely more segregated. Not to use the word loosely, but the communities were very siloed. I don't think I ever had a friend that was non-Latino until maybe High School. That wasn't the case for my brothers ten and eight years later. They attended different schools and had different opportunities.
I think being a girl in the Latino community also caused my parents to shelter me a bit more. They were over protective of me, so I wasn't exposed to certain experiences early on in my life. But then I was able to have those experiences in college, which really opened the doors to this whole new world.
Making her mark at the Anderson School of Management, UCLA
I'm the program director for the field studies capstone program at the Anderson School of Management at UCLA. The MBA degree is a very practical degree- it's not so much theory based. The students who are conducting their master's program need to complete a master's thesis. The MBA is very unique because you can actually go out into the field and apply what you've learned. There’s a traditional project in which students form teams and they do a consulting project for a company. They apply everything they learned to a business goal and then spend six months working on it.
For my program (The Business Creation Option or BCO), students form teams of five and work on bringing a business idea to market. So we're part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Anderson, which is so exciting because we're always getting a group of students with new ideas. There has been an incredible demand and interest for the program, as we've grown from having only 4 teams, to know having over 50 per cohort!
What I do is a lot of the administration behind the program. I plan the syllabus, work with the faculty, and work on all of the programming and panels. My role also has a strategic component, as I'm involved in the strategic planning of where we want the program to be in the next couple of years. Ultimately, I'm also involved in understanding what the students need from us in order for them to have a better experience. We conduct evaluations to make sure that we're honoring their voices.
Finding her voice in a male driven industry
It is a very male driven industry, so I don't see a lot of women in business or academia. When I was first promoted into the director role, I did experience imposter syndrome because I was like, ‘I know I'm smart, but...’. Aside from where I went to school, I know that I've had an amazing career so far, but I have experienced times where people automatically think I'm somebody's assistant, instead of the director.
I feel a constant need to have to assert myself… and I struggle with it at times. I actually try to read a lot and follow social media accounts that empower me as a woman. A lot of it is an oxymoron; you have to speak up and be assertive or, don't speak up and be assertive because then that shows you're not confident. I am always finding my way.
I've been very lucky of having an amazing supervisor. He's very into empowering women and has given me the opportunity to grow. I feel safe to exert myself, without being challenged or questioned, but there are times when I meet individuals across different areas (whether faculty or mentors) and my opinion isn't validated or I get cut off a lot.
Empowering herself and other women
It’s a constant battle. My team is all women and women of color, and so my goal is to make sure that they feel empowered just as much as I do. It's taken me a long time to get to the place where I feel comfortable speaking up, but often I don't feel truly comfortable... I just look comfortable. Our students constantly wish that we had more representation and diversity. My efforts are constantly gearing towards this. My challenges have consistently been around this idea of being heard without having a man validate what I'm saying.
Ruffle some feathers
I grew up in a traditional Guatemalan home, so my parents, specifically my dad, always told me to never ruffle any feathers. You know... just be nice, accept everything, say, “yes, thank you”. They came from a country that was war ridden. They said don't ruffle any feathers and all I want to do is ruffle feathers. It's kind of different balancing that act as a woman and as a woman of color. It is a challenge that I'm still trying to work on in my personal life and my professional career... but it's something that I don't shy away from.
Fighting imposter syndrome
I remember one time, my cousin and I where in Disneyland and my cousin said, “Can you stop speaking to me in Spanish?”. I asked why, and she said, “People are looking at us”. I told her that that was okay, let them stare… but that made me so sad. For a while, others' opinions did affect me, which led to my imposter syndrome. I have worked through it, and I feel so empowered now.
I remember I told an aunt that I was going to go to college when I was in fifth grade, and she said, “You're not white, you can't go”. I remember watching Saved by the Bell- I'm so old- and I remember watching how they were applying to college and I couldn't wait to apply as well. Shoot for the stars and never think that just because you're different you're less than anyone else. Being different makes you more special.
What it means to be Latina
By being Latina I feel this responsibility to keep my culture alive. One of the things that is important to me is my language. I rarely speak Spanish, although I'm fluent at it. The only person I ever spoke Spanish with was my dad. I spoke English with my mom. So to me, being Latina is keeping my culture and my language alive. The career I have, and experiences I've been able to have were all possible thanks to the sacrifices my parents made when I was growing up.
Being flamboyantly Latina
To be Latina means to continue my culture and continue to be very proud of where I am, while I'm speaking. Anderson has been helpful in helping me keep my culture and heritage, as they have a large population of international students. It's the first time I have felt comfortable speaking in public. I don't know if I have an accent to you or not, I just know that when I was told that I had an accent, it really affected me. So I refuse now to ever negate who I am, like my language, my culture, how I dress, or what I like to eat. To me, I would feel I would be doing my parents a disservice by not being flamboyantly Latina. That's my nature and I refuse to diminish it.