Class of '22: Health Services Administration grad perseveres through tragedy to inspire family, fulfill promise

May 02, 2022
Lourdes Lewis stands smiling inside of a building.

To mark the graduation of the Class of 2022, Marketing & Communications is profiling several students who were nominated by staff and faculty for their contributions to the University and their potential to make a difference after graduation. For more information about 2022 commencement exercises, please click here.

When Lourdes Lewis walks across the Calihan Hall stage to receive her Health Services Administration degree in mid-May, she’ll fulfill two promises.

One she made to her late husband; the second she made to herself.

“My husband passed away 10 years ago from cancer and when he was getting ready to pass, he made me promise that I would go after my dream and get my degree,” Lewis said. “So, I did. I got my first degree in honor of him and then I felt that this one was for me.”

Lewis’ dream started with helping people, a road that eventually led to Detroit Mercy.

“I have always wanted to be a nurse, that was my heart was to help people,” she said. “I was going to school for nursing and then the Michigan Institute of Urology offered me a position as a patient navigator. When I took that position, it allowed me to see the medical field in a different light, from clinical to administrative and I fell in love with it.

“I just felt like I could make a change and I really liked it. I got promoted to supervisor of that department and that was my driving force to come to the University.”

The journey has been anything but easy for Lewis, who as the youngest of six children left her native Mexico, crossing the border for United States with her siblings and mom.

“I came to the United States when I was just 4 years old,” she recalled. “We were in the back of a pick-up truck with a blanket over our head. We did get legalized, obviously, and I just became an American citizen in July 2021, so I’ve been a permanent resident for many, many years.”

Lewis and the majority of her family settled in Michigan, following an older brother who came to the area because of the construction boom. Lewis’ mother passed away when she was 19 years old, shortly after Lewis had become a parent.

“I was a single mom with no mom or dad,” she said. “We have a close family, but I had to figure it out. We came from nothing.”

Lewis, now 46 with four children, has earned everything. She was a stay-at-home mom for many years and also worked as a waitress to support her family. After she re-married, Lewis’ late husband, Frank, urged her to go to school because he knew that’s what she wanted.

“When I met my second husband, he worked and wanted me to go to school, he knew that was my passion,” Lewis said. “I was able to finish school, I was going for medical assisting and during my internship, the last part of it, what’s when he was diagnosed with cancer. It took me a little longer, but I was able to finish and then a month later I got the position I’m in now at the Michigan Institute of Urology.

“When I got hired there, my husband got really, really sick. I took three months off and they helped me through everything. We lost everything and I moved in with my sister. It’s been quite a journey, but now I feel like I have a beautiful house that I worked hard for myself, through blood, sweat and tears.”

Lewis felt at home in the Health Services Administration program at Detroit Mercy, in part because the professors and faculty treated her like family.

“What I really love is that they are not just professors, they are mentors,” Lewis said. “It’s personal. I feel like Professor (Mary) Mitsch took me under her wing and she really groomed me. They’re not just letting you go, they are preparing you.

“They’re not just classes, you can feel the passion of what they are teaching. Professor Tasha German has been a huge impact in my career and there’s been many times where I’ve called, emailed or texted her, ‘I’m going on an interview, help.’

“You almost become like family to them and I think that you can’t get that at another college, you can’t get that intimacy, life-long relationships.”

Those relationships began almost immediately.

“When I took my first class with Professor Mitsch, which was last semester, she started off the class with a well-check,” Lewis said. “She said, ‘I’m praying for you.’ My granddaughter got really sick and we didn’t know if she was going to make it. I couldn’t even think, I spent most of my time in the hospital.

“The thought of my professors praying for me, praying with me and just saying, school can wait, it will be here. That was pretty amazing, you’re not going to get that anywhere. To me, that just speaks such volumes as a woman of faith.”

As a non-traditional college student, Lewis also felt supported in the program. She loved the closeness and proximity of the Macomb Campus to her work and home.

“There were a lot of younger students in class with me, but I felt more like they looked up to me,” she said. “I didn’t feel intimidated. It allowed me to work full-time and then go to school nearly full-time as well. It was close to home and the cost was beneficial, too.”

There’s another reason why the University is like family for Lewis.

“The great thing is that I have a 23-year-old, Alexis, that is going to start here in the fall,” Lewis said. “She’s graduating with her associates and will also be getting a Health Services Administration degree.”

Last year, Lewis achieved another life goal: She became an American citizen in 2021. It was an emotional moment.

“There is something that they say before I did my oath, they said, ‘everyone here has a journey,’” she said. “You’re coming into a different country, this is your journey. When we said our oath, they’re like, ‘now your journey is an American journey’ and it touched my heart.”

Lewis hopes that she has set a good example for her kids, just like her mom before her, who worked hard and raised six children all by herself in a new country.

“I think it’s super important to continue the legacy of my mom, being hard-working and I hope that I’m passing it on to my kids,” she said. “I hope that they pass it on to their kids and that legacy continues to live on.”

With several dreams now fulfilled and a Health Services Administration degree in tow, Lewis hopes one day to be a director or executive in her field.

Her journey is anything but complete.

“It wasn’t easy to get here and (my kids) watched the progression after my husband died, when we lost everything,” she said. “To come from nothing to proving to them no matter what happens, you can persevere, you can be something.”

— By Adam Bouton. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookLinkedInTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.