Dana Lopes was the first member of her family to graduate from high school. Born in rural Indiana, Lopes was raised in a trailer that had no heat, no air conditioning and barely enough beds for her family.
“There was a time I had to sleep on plywood with just a blanket on it. I would always hear murmurings about my family and how I was never going to amount to anything,” said Lopes, who has joined the staff of the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morris Township as a nursing instructor.
The odds certainly were stacked against Lopes. Her family lived more than 15 percent below the poverty level.
Prior to her father’s incarceration, Lopes witnessed domestic violence between her parents, and was routinely exposed to substance abuse in the home. This tumultuous environment led to both emotional and physical neglect. However, instead of falling prey to her circumstances, Lopes decided to make a change.
“When I was in middle school, I realized that education was the only way out of my situation,” says Lopes. “I hated being home so I joined every single club and sport that I could. Then, I’d lock myself in my room in the trailer and read my textbooks until I could go to sleep.”
Since Lopes held education in such high esteem, she began modeling herself after her teachers. They became her pillars of morality, exemplars of virtue and nurtured her every step of the way.
Their guidance, coupled with Lopes’ hard work, earned her admission to Purdue University, with full tuition paid.
She earned several post-graduate certifications and degrees in nursing before joining the faculty at the College of Saint Elizabeth.
In addition to practical knowledge, acquired while working as a nurse practitioner for trauma patients, Lopes brings compassion to the classroom.
“I want to be the role model for my students that I had when I was in school, because maybe I’m the only one they have in their life,” says Lopes.
“Living in the trailer park, people would always say, ‘I could never achieve anything,’ but your situation doesn’t define you. I want my students to know that you have to fight for what you want and you can create the opportunities for yourself.”
Mary Colleen Robinson has a communication degree with a concentration in journalism and is currently working as the PR/Social Media Specialist at the College of Saint Elizabeth