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Washington State University
Carson College of Business Fall 2017 - Dividend

Perseverance and Focus

Account for Success
By Silvia Lindman

Even before her May 2017 graduation, Adelayda Lopez-Santillano’s accounting career was well on its way. She has worked for the Washington State Auditor’s Office, Clark County PUD, and Perkins & Co., one of Portland’s top accounting firms. After completing her Certified Public Accountant and Certified Managerial Accountant exams, her career options will soar.

Twenty years ago, Lopez-Santillano did not foresee that she would one day be hailed as a success story at WSU Vancouver’s Carson College of Business. Now 35, she grew up in Blackfoot, Idaho, as the oldest of six half siblings and learned as a child to cook, wash clothes, and clean.

“My mom never really expected that I would continue my education,” says Lopez-Santillano, who dropped out of high school at age 15 to get married but did earn her GED. When her first marriage ended, she left Idaho for a good job at the Port of Portland.

When the company started laying people off, Lopez-Santillano decided to leave and pursue her education, a lifelong dream. She earned a cosmetology license, but that wasn’t enough for her. She found her calling—accounting—at Clark College.

“I fell in love with the community, and I fell in love with accounting,” Lopez-Santillano says. She graduated in May from WSU Vancouver with honors—the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree.


Everything fell into place for her when she needed it, she says. The Carson College of Business, for example, has been “an amazing resource” with “wonderful people who pointed me in the direction where I needed to go,” she says.

She built relationships with professors and students, forming study groups and tutoring. She regularly used WSU Vancouver’s Carson Center for Success, a resource for business students. “It provides a place to study, and advisors are right there in that room, so if you have a question, you can talk to them,” she says.

Remarried and the mother of three boys, ages 9–13, Lopez-Santillano received grants and scholarships and worked as many as three part-time jobs at a time to cover college and living expenses. In 2016, she became the first recipient of the new Joe Cote Endowed Scholarship, which supports business students who struggle to stay in school.

Mostly, though, her own focus and perseverance account for her success. “When you grow up poor, there’s this drive inside you that won’t allow you to fail,” she says.

Lopez-Santillano has high expectations for her own children. The first step to a good life? “I expect my children to graduate from high school and get straight As,” she says.

As for her future, she would like to be in a position to help other students like herself. “I will be a part of WSU in some way,” she says. “I believe in paying it forward. Without building relationships, we don’t get very far.”

I believe in paying it forward. Without building relationships, we don’t get very far.
– Adelayda Lopez-Santillano