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By Chris Helms – 

14-Harvard profileResilient. Adaptable. Brave. These are a few of the words Harvard’s Corinne Espinoza uses to describe the poor.

She’ll also tell you she’s proud of her humble background, of how her family persevered despite constantly being on the move looking for jobs.

These days, the Mount Holyoke College graduate is the Executive Assistant to the Executive Dean for Administration at Harvard’s School of Engineering & Applied Sciences. The job’s hours give her more time to raise her 15-year-old son than jobs she previously worked.

Her son, Emiliano, has already seen much of the world, thanks to Espinoza’s adventurous spirit. He accompanied her on research trips to Sweden and Mexico, for instance.

“I don’t think if I’d lived in the same house all my life I would’ve moved across the country [from Colorado to Massachusetts] to go a school where I didn’t know anyone,” Espinoza said during an interview with El Mundo on the Harvard campus.

“I don’t think that I would have taken a young kid around the world if I’d had a more stable, safe life.”

Espinoza initially didn’t finish high school, owing to the pressures of needing to work at the same time. But she stuck to it and got her GED. The birth of her son provided further inspiration to achieve higher education.

“When he was born, I wanted him to go to college,” Espinoza said.

“How could he go to college if I didn’t go to college?”

She turned strong community college work in Santa Monica, Calif. into a scholarship for non-traditional students at Mount Holyoke in western Massachusetts.

She arrived at the prestigious all-women’s school when Emiliano was just three. She said she’s thankful for a mentor there — who had three children of her own — for showing her how to succeed as a college student and mom.

Espinoza went on to take a bachelor’s degree in economics. As a scholar, Espinoza said her aim is “using science to change the world.”


Whatever the future holds, Espinoza has a strong sense of identity from which to draw strength.

She identifies as a chicana. She’s not a fan of the terms Latino or Hispanic.

“I don’t judge anyone else’s use of words, but for me, chicana is the one that’s most accurate.”

Using money smarts
to help others

Once Emiliano is grown, Espinoza says she may return to her field of economics. But she’s also powerfully interested in social entrepreneurship. For instance, she puts her economic and financial skills to use as founder of the Good Bank. The Cambridge non-profit provides “micro loans” to homeless young people and adults.

The loans are small — $5 or even less. But when a client pays them off, they get access to larger amounts.

Espinoza said she knows these small amounts won’t change someone’s life. But they can make a difference. Take for instance a school museum trip that comes with a charge for lunch. For someone living close to the margins, that small amount might force them to make choices like, “Do I go to the ATM and withdraw $20, knowing I’ll go below my balance and get a $35 fee?”

As Espinoza says, being poor costs money.

Espinoza also uses her accounting know-how as a board member of the Cambridge Community Center.

Espinoza’s message to people who share her background is that the world needs them.

“Experience and wisdom, competencies, resilience, adaptability, strength, power, intelligence, beauty…more of our institutions need that,” Espinoza said. “I just encourage people to know and appreciate their own value and to bring their value where it’s needed.”

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