Motivation Monday: Ellie


University of Wisconsin - Madison | 2009
Sociology & African Studies

Hometown: Kishinev, Moldova / Skokie, Illinois
Currently: Working in affordable housing for the federal government
Self-described: Energetic, thoughtful, persistent
Enjoys: Finding and trying new recipes, exploring neighborhoods, working out, playing softball, reading, and volunteering

In many ways, my career path has become a reflection of my own childhood.

Tell us about yourself!

I currently work in affordable housing for the federal government. As part of my job, my office works to ensure that affordable housing for families throughout the Midwest region is preserved while also working to secure new housing stock.

I am originally from Russia, from a region that became Moldova after the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the Communist rule, my family decided that leaving the country was the only way for them to achieve religious and economic freedom while also providing a better future for me. My grandfather’s sister was the first person from our family to come to the United States, and she initialized the formal request with the government for my immediate family to come. It was a few years later that my family came to this country as refugees and settled in Chicago.

Even though my mother and grandfather gained a formal education in the Soviet Union, it was up to me to navigate the new education system, leading to becoming a first generation college student in this country.


Tell us about your career trajectory!

My initial plan was to attend law school and focus on civil rights law. In many ways, my career path has become a reflection of my own childhood, which I did not realize until my focus shifted from law school to social work a year after college graduation.

When I was young, my family and I struggled with being new immigrants and sought the assistance of an aid agency to help with social, health, and financial support. It was during those early years of my childhood that my mother became ill, and my grandfather became my main support system.

In an unforeseen turn of events surrounding my mother’s illness and the assistance of an aid agency, I wound up in foster care, surrounded by lawyers and social workers advocating on my behalf.

Years later, my perseverance to remain a high achieving student, connect with clubs and volunteer groups in my community, and maintain a system of support through friends and individuals that supported me along the way, I entered college with a career path in mind.

After college, I joined AmeriCorps, a government volunteer program that works with local nonprofits, where I worked directly with low-income communities and individuals experiencing homelessness. During my year in AmeriCorps, I decided that law school was no longer the right fit for my future, but rather the field of social work would provide me with the right skill set to be able to impact communities and individuals in need. It took another two years to find a graduate program that would fit my interests.

It was during this time that I transitioned to another nonprofit within the field of housing and homelessness. My focus area was engaging homeless individuals and families through our housing program, ensuring that they moved into housing and were provided with the appropriate resources and services to maintain that housing.

I believe that the time I took to decide my career path was invaluable to leading me to where I am today. Although the road ahead seemed like it would be difficult, looking back I am grateful that I allowed myself to follow my passion and take the steps to learn how that passion could translate to a career.

Greatest source of inspiration

Even though I had family as my support system, I ultimately knew that my own financial and personal well-being was in my hands. My family was not in a position to support me if other financial strains ensued. I knew that college was the only way to guarantee a future where I could support myself, be proud of my accomplishments, and follow my passions through a successful career.


How did other people help you get to where you are today?

People in my life embraced me for who I am and reinforced my decisions in school and extracurricular activities. I was given feedback on how to pursue my choices, as well as the space to figure out what I needed to do to get to where I wanted to go.

Coffee or tea?

Introvert or extrovert?

PC or Mac?

Early bird or night owl?
Night Owl

Adventurous or cautious?
My husband, Eddie, and I at Race Judicata 2017 in Chicago

My husband, Eddie, and I at Race Judicata 2017 in Chicago


Major / Minor
Sociology & African Studies
Master of Social Work | Nonprofit Management

Years Attended

Grad Year


Favorite thing

College was a great opportunity to reinvent myself. It allowed me to step out of my insecurities and inhibitions and try new subjects, attend sporting events, join clubs that brought out my interests, and meet new people. I was free to explore all that the school had to offer, from taking African dance classes to joining protests for the protection of human rights.


Least favorite thing

It was up to me to decide which classes to take, which made it difficult to step out of my comfort zone and try classes that might have sparked my interest in a different major or influenced a different career choice.


Tell us about a challenge you faced. How did you overcome it?

I did not know any other students going to the college I attended. In my first week, I felt isolated and decided that it was up to me to change that. I decided to open up and become friendly with the people living on my floor. Additionally, I joined a few clubs that sounded interesting and a religious group.


Did you ever think you wouldn't make it to college graduation?

I did not let myself think failure was an option. I focused on completing my classes and pursuing internship opportunities that would help me graduate and get a job after graduation.


What advice would you give to your freshman-year self?

I would take advantage of professors’ office hours, meet with academic advisors to discuss the types of classes offered and what is necessary to complete a major and receive honors in that major, join clubs on campus, try classes that sound interesting and might be in a field that is new to you, join study groups with other students in your classes, always attend your classes, attend a sporting event or an arts event on campus, attend a lecture on a new topic, and be open to any new opportunities.


Best advice you received?

You are the only one that can make things happen for yourself. Use the support of your family, friends, and those around you to help you in achieving your greatest potential. Don’t expect others to give you praise, but be proud of yourself and embrace your accomplishments.


What's your secret for time management and productivity?

I plan out the week by creating a to-do list of things I need to accomplish and mapping my appointments on a calendar. I stick to my schedule.


How do you de-stress?

Get outdoors, listen to music, escape in a good book, and take time for myself.


Book recommendation

The South Side by Natalie Moore

Often times we forget that we live much of our lives in our own bubble. It’s important to step out of that bubble and think about the ways we can impact our own communities. As individuals, we can make a difference while being mindful and empathetic for those around us who are less fortunate.

Can students contact you directly? If so, about what?

Yes! Anything.

Connect with Ellie