#GreatFaith: Carla Lopez ’97

Wednesday, August 21, 2019
Carla Lopez ’97

Sitting in her New York apartment, Carla Lopez ’97 is framed by bright tapestries and paintings. Her vibrant blue dress is decorated with red fish that shimmy as she shifts in her chair. She’s an upbeat storyteller, detailing her life, her dreams, her time at Mercersburg, and the path that wound its way to the circumstance in which she now she lives. She is currently the innovation lead for health at the International Rescue Committee in the greater New York City area.

“[My team and I] use design and behavioral science to counter world problems,” Lopez says. Specifically, she works to promote better public health for refugees and people in rural areas around the world. It’s noble work, but so different from her original intentions—the intentions that brought her to Mercersburg. 

Lopez spent her early years following her parents around the globe. Somewhere among her travels, her dreams began. At 6 years old, her fascination lay with dinosaurs “as I’m sure 80 percent of 6-year-olds are,” Lopez jokes. Her first-grade teachers further engaged her interest and encouraged her to delve deeper into the topic. By the time Lopez turned 7, she’d written and published several books for the family fridge on the topic of vertebrate biology, the examination of skeletons to see how the creatures once lived. At that young age, Lopez knew what she was going to do with her life.

Ultimately, it was this ambition that drew Lopez to Mercersburg. Born in Brazil, Lopez was fluent in Portuguese and English, which fulfilled the Mercersburg language requirement. She then doubled up on science and studied vertebrate biology along with the required courses. After she arrived at Mercersburg, Lopez found so much more than her dream classes. “I’m still good friends with my friends from Mercersburg,” she says. “The kind of friendships you make there are exceptional. I learned what it is to value friendship.” And, as if on cue, she has to pause during our conversation to decline a call from a fellow Mercersburg alumna.

During her two years at Mercersburg, she found herself declaiming both years, and she won second place for her final performance. Her winning piece followed a woman as she bought condoms and spoke to the cashier. Throughout the story, it becomes evident that the woman has HIV. Lopez laughs as she realizes that the piece served as foreshadowing for the work she now does in the public health sector in HIV prevention.

Lopez attended Pomona College in California, majoring in biology just as she’d always intended. After graduation, however, she hesitated to jump into her selected field: “I was afraid I would end up writing grants to study a deep trench worm that I and three other people knew about.” Instead, she took a position as an environmental consultant, a job she found tedious but that allowed her to follow other passions. She ended up volunteering to help combat the AIDS crisis by helping out at community clinics and doing outreach work at gay bars. Suddenly, Lopez found herself more interested in studying the “human type of vertebrate because it was so strange and complicated and interesting.” 

Lopez returned to school to major in public health with a focus on health behavior. After graduation, she began working with non-government organizations (NGOs) all over the world. She worked on improving sexual health in Papua New Guinea, helping in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and serving as a director of an NGO in Liberia before her return to the U.S. to work with an organization focusing on refugees.

From an interest in dinosaurs to her work supporting refugees, Lopez has chased her interests and followed her passions. She is a woman who has dedicated her life to the betterment of her global community, something that the countless people she has helped are no doubt grateful for.

Editor’s Note: Eliza DuBose ’20, of Rollinsville, Colorado, is a Writing Center Fellow, a Language Media Center Ambassador, and a member of Stony Batter Players.