First-generation college student finds support at MSU, blazes new trail for those who will come next

Janice Mendoza applied to 12 universities across the state as a high school senior living in Hazel Park, Michigan. janice mendoza

“I visited other college campuses in Michigan and was discouraged by the lack of diversity that they offered. In high school, I was one of the only Latinos present and I wanted to have a more inclusive experience in college,” she said.

Mendoza sought out a more inclusive experience, finding it at Michigan State University, and has helped more students who, like her, are the first generation in their family to attend college. She now serves on the Honors College’s Inclusive Excellence Strategic Committee, where she has worked with faculty, staff and other students to broaden the language in the admissions criteria so that it can include leadership, research and community service involvement in addition to grade-point average and standardized test scores.

“After my first semester at MSU, I was invited to be an Honors College member because of my excellent academic record,” she said. “The Honors Options/Courses that I was once so scared to participate in have been a source of excitement; they have given me the opportunity to work closely with my professors and immerse myself in several topics of interest.

“In high school, I had high academic aspirations but did not reach my potential due to a lack of guidance as well as socio-economic pressures. I joined the Inclusive Excellence Strategic Committee because I wanted to be a voice for those that come from underserved neighborhoods and desire excellence. I believe an incoming freshman should not be defined by their ACT scores and should be able to reach high academic pursuits if they wish to do so. I was very pleased that the Committee looked into non-traditional ways of measuring a student’s potential to succeed in the Honors College.”

As a sophomore studying social relations and policy in James Madison College, in addition to minors in political economy and Chicano and Latino studies, Mendoza is interested in pursuing a career where she can promote the advancement of marginalized communities.

“My main foci include poverty reduction, access to education, and immigration,” she said. “(My older brother and I) were raised by a single-mother from Mexico who instilled in us an appreciation for education.”

Mendoza credits the Spartan Success Scholars and Spartan Advantage Program for getting her started at MSU, as well as a summer bridge program through the Office of Supportive Services’ TRiO initiative. While at MSU, Mendoza has served as an academic tutor and an intercultural aide through TRiO.

When asked what advice she has for other first-generation college students, she said, “Seek organizations and mentors that will be able to guide you through your endeavors. At MSU, there are so many opportunities to ensure that your needs are being met. The Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions as well as the Office of Supportive Services are a couple of branches dedicated to this. Talk to your intercultural aide. Please do not feel embarrassed if you do not know things that may seem like ‘common knowledge’ and instead seek answers. Furthermore, meeting older students at MSU with interests similar to your’s will be very helpful.”