“Who thinks they can build a simple motor?” Fernanda Lopez asked a group of young middle- and high-school women during a virtual workshop she was leading for Tesla. She expected the girls to be shy, to hesitate to answer. But instead, virtual hands started raising and girls started nodding their heads, looking excited.
Lopez is a service campaigns intern at Tesla, where she coordinates among teams of engineers and project managers to identify quality issues in vehicles—and helps host events like Tesla’s “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.”
Through her remote internship at Tesla, experiential learning opportunities, and dedicated on-campus involvement, Lopez has found her passion: Empowering young women who are interested in technology and entrepreneurship.
“Women are not born thinking that they don’t belong in a field or industry,” explains Lopez, a fourth-year marketing student with a minor in behavioral neuroscience. “They are taught by society at a certain age that this is not a place that welcomes them. I’m really inspired to make sure that the barrier where society teaches them they don’t belong somewhere is completely dismantled, and we do our best job to protect that sense of courage and self confidence.”
Lopez completed three co-ops through Northeastern before accepting her internship, and says these experiences were essential to building her own repertoire and confidence.
During her first co-op at Compt, a computer software startup in Cambridge, Lopez unexpectedly became interim head of marketing when her boss went on maternity leave—and helped lead the company in cross-collaboration initiatives as a second-year student.
For her second co-op, she joined the Customer Success team at BounceX, an e-commerce company in New York City now renamed Wunderkind, where she worked directly with clients such as Casper and Sonos. In the fall, in the midst of the pandemic, she worked as a business analyst co-op for private markets at KKR, a global investment firm.
At KKR, her third co-op before her internship at Tesla, she honed in on more technical skills, and discovered a new aspect of business she was passionate about.
“It was definitely a very challenging co-op for me, because I had to go into an industry that I had no idea how to get into before,” Lopez says. “I was really lucky that a company gave me a chance because it really got me to understand that I want to work with engineers, I want to work in technology, and I really want to work in something related to software.”
All three co-ops, Lopez says, helped her to develop both collaboration skills and technical, analytic-based skills that led her to Tesla, the pioneer in electric vehicles and other energy products based in Palo Alto, Calif. Lopez works remotely as an intern 20 hours a week while still participating in full-time classes and on-campus organizations.
Lopez has always pushed herself, says Frankie Gonzalez, Lopez’s co-op adviser and longtime mentor.
“She took a lot of risks. She wasn’t afraid to explore new areas for growth,” Gonzalez says. “Her curiosity and her fearlessness has brought into all these different areas of business. She wanted to know something about finance, she wanted to know about marketing functions, she wanted to know about engineering and science—and she wasn’t afraid to really go and explore those things. That’s what makes her unique.”
At the core of Lopez’s drive is her dedication to WISE, the Women’s Interdisciplinary Society of Entrepreneurship at Northeastern, and her devotion to empowering other young women. Through WISE, Lopez says she is learning how to be an authentic leader and play to her strengths as a woman.
“For a long time, I felt like I had to hide part of my personality to fit a mold of what a good leader should be like. I felt like you can’t be super kind and empathetic when you’re a leader; you have to be really assertive,” Lopez says. “But some of the best leaders I’ve had in my life are really compassionate people, and I was able to see that type of leadership since day one when I joined WISE. I identify as that kind of leader—a leader that is there to listen to the team and make sure I can do my part in building a safe and thriving environment for others.”
As co-vice president of WeBuild, a project-incubator program led by WISE, Lopez has been able to bring this leadership style to life. There, she leads innovation and design classes dedicated to empowering diverse groups of women and providing resources for success in entrepreneurship.
Much like her commitment to the young girls she was leading at Tesla’s virtual accelerator, Lopez believes in championing the skills of young entrepreneurs through WeBuild.
“There’s so many women out there that have so many great ideas and so much potential to actually build a company from scratch,” Lopez says. “Sometimes they don’t know where the resources are. They just need some hand-holding for a little bit to make sure they feel supported and empowered.”
A first-generation college student from Guadalajara, Mexico, Lopez is motivated by making her family and community proud, and she dreams of one day building an accelerator for women entrepreneurs back home in Mexico.
“I want to make sure that other young women, and especially young women of color, can see someone that they identify with in a position of leadership.”
And it’s Lopez’s compassion and drive that will get her there, Gonzalez says. “She’s a true leader in a way that you want leaders to be. You want to be inspired by people, you don’t want to be told what to do, you want to be inspired. And that’s how she is.”
There’s still a long way to go, Lopez admits—not only in her own life, but also in her work advancing the role of women in entrepreneurial fields. But if there’s anything she’s learned throughout her experiences in co-ops and in WISE, it’s that she’s ready to lead.
“I really didn’t expect to find my passion when it comes to the kind of work I want to do in the future. I found that I thrive in spaces where I’m empowered to learn more and be challenged,” Lopez says. “I do feel very confident in my abilities, and I do know that I have a way to go. But the journey doesn’t scare me anymore.”