Name: Charity Mendoza
Class: Heartland Class of 2005
Degree: Associate's in Applied Science
Interviewer: Colleen Reynolds, Director of Alumni Relations and Outreach
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Colleen: Our latest spotlight shines on a Heartland alum who spent most of her life in poverty and who walked a difficult path to reach her goals but now she’s sharing her passion for higher education with her six children and anyone else who will listen.
Charity: Hello. My name is Charity Mendoza. I graduated Heartland in 2005 with an Associate's Degree in Applied Science and a Certificate in Small Business Management in 2006.
Colleen: That's quite an accomplishment.
Charity: Yeah, it is. I'm really proud of those degrees and going to Heartland really made it possible for me even to continue on to my Bachelor's Degree, I feel.
Colleen: Let's start at the very beginning, because it was a rough road to get to Heartland even growing up you had a rough childhood.
Charity: Yeah, I did.
Colleen: Tell us a little bit about that.
Charity: I've spent most of my life in poverty. My mother was a single mother of five children. I was a young mother myself and had my first child in high school. I actually got married when I was still in high school and eventually dropped out of high school because I had two children while I was in high school trying to maintain the house and the family and all the responsibilities that I was juggling. It just was very difficult for me to continue my studies in high school. It was a very difficult decision because I enjoyed school. I loved to learn and I had to make a decision and family came first.
Colleen: What did you do to fulfill that need that you had to continue learning?
Charity: I taught my children a lot while I was a stay-at-home mom. We also went to the library a lot of times. I would even check out algebra books just to challenge my mind and keep it exercised in knowledge.
Colleen: What eventually brought you to Heartland?
Charity: A lot of very unfortunate circumstances. I believe that sometimes you have to go through something bad to get your blessing. At that time, I had separated from my husband; I was dealing with depression. I think a lot of that stemmed from that I had the potential but not the opportunity. I started seeking out the resources that I needed to go to college and go ahead and further my education. I ended up at the unemployment office to apply for unemployment benefits and I noticed Career Link was there. I applied for Career Link. I wasn't sure if I'd be accepted. I certainly didn't expect to be funded through that program but they did fund me. I was placed at Heartland. I applied for Heartland admissions and I enrolled in classes. That's how I started at Heartland
Colleen: Before that, you did go ahead and get your GED. You wanted and needed that high school diploma.
Charity: Yes, because my employment opportunities were very limited. I even found it difficult to gain employment in factories without a GED or a high school diploma. I went ahead and got my GED. One of the administrators there was my eighth grade English teacher and she was telling me how it broke her heart that I dropped out of high school but she understood my reasons. She really encouraged me to go on to college. She was really the first person who really instilled that value in me that that's a possibility for me because all my life I never thought it was going to happen for me.
Colleen: Your parents did not receive college degrees.
Charity: They didn't receive high school diplomas. My mother did get her GED and my father is working on his GED right now.
Colleen: Let's go back to Heartland. You start there. Tell me about your experience at Heartland and how it felt to be back in the classroom. Was it full-time or part-time
Charity: I went full-time, all in. I enjoyed it immensely. The instructors were very good. They taught the material very well. I really made a lot of relationships with the instructors that I still maintain today with some of the professors out there. They're a great resource even after you graduate. You can still call them up and they'll probably remember you. I was very active as a student in the classroom and on campus. I was involved with Phi Theta Kappa. I was also involved with Alpha Beta Gamma and Project RISE. I also found a student worker position as a Master Tutor for the GED and Adult Education program at Heartland. I felt since I was at Heartland as a college student now having received my GED that that was a great place for me to motivate other students that they don't have to stop at their GED. They can go on to college as well.
Colleen: While you were at Heartland, did you have any mentors or any teachers that really reached out or helped you along the way?
Charity: Absolutely. Dr. Nancy Evans is the first one that I would mention. She was wonderful. She was my business professor for a lot of my business classes. Professor Pilchard and also Hal Wendling and Dr. Alan Cring who is now here at ISU.
Colleen: You liked it enough where you even came back and got a business certificate. Tell me about the decision to do that.
Charity: Actually, I went in prepared. I didn't need much assistance from an academic adviser other than either getting a waiver for a class or something like that. I researched the catalogs. I saw what classes I needed to take for the Associate's in Applied Science Microcomputer Applications Degree. I compared that to the Certificate in Small Business Management. By selecting the correct electives and taking one extra class, I would get both. That is what I did. The reason I chose the small business management focus was because my husband at the time wanted to open up a small business. He had had a small business in the past but didn't know the correct steps to have everything in order and to be completely legitimate. That is why I wanted to take those classes so that we followed all the steps appropriately and we didn't find ourselves in any trouble.
Colleen: I know you value education. In fact, you've gone on and are continuing your education.
Charity: Yes. Actually, I just graduated with my Bachelor's Degree in December of 2010. At the present time, I am not enrolled in a Master's Degree program but I do have plans to do so. Right now I am working full-time in the Scholarship Resource Office in the Financial Aid Department here at ISU. Hopefully, that will turn into a permanent position to where I can work on my Master's degree for free because we have tuition waivers for staff.
Colleen: What do you like about working on a college campus and doing the kind of job you're doing today?
Charity: Mostly that I get to help other students that are similar to myself. Not just students, but parents too. A lot of times I'll just get phone calls from parents who don't know where to start, don't know where to go, who maybe make too much money but don't get enough aid and they need something else, they need other resources. I can help direct them to other resources so that the students can come to college and be able to afford it.
Colleen: Sounds like you're giving back in a way like it was given to you.
Charity: Absolutely, that is my goal. I always remember what has been given to me and it is my goal to give back.
Colleen: You continue to do that in the community work that you do.
Charity: Absolutely. While I was a student here at ISU, I wasn't too involved in the student organizations on campus but I was still involved in the community. I was a volunteer at Western Avenue Community Center. I was a mentor/tutor for the Teen Night on Monday nights. I was able to assist Latino students there. When my schedule changed and I could no longer do that on Monday nights, I talked to Socorro Alvarez who is the Director of Social Services at Western Avenue Community Center and the services that they offer to the Latino community at Western Avenue Community Center. I asked her if there's anybody there who can talk to the students and parents about the admissions process into college or for financial aid and things like that. Those are the things that I struggled with. When I wanted to go to college and thought I couldn't go to college because I didn't know where to go, didn't know the answers. Where do you start? What is the process? Do you just walk in to a college and attend a class, just sit down in a desk? I didn't know anything. I gave her all of my contact information, my Facebook, my e-mail, my cell phone number, everything. If she has any Latino families who come to her and need information about enrolling in college, I would be able and willing to go out to their houses and meet with them either in their homes or at Western Avenue Community Center, whatever, where ever they wanted to meet and help them through that process.
Colleen: I imagine because of your experience at Heartland that you would encourage them to maybe start there. It's a good place to start an academic career.
Charity: Absolutely. Not just the affordability but the value of the education that you get there. The excellent instruction that they receive there is really great.
Colleen: You're kind of an ambassador for Heartland to the Latino community in a sense.
Charity: Absolutely. I hope so! I really hope so because Heartland has done so much for me. It's changed my life. It really has because I was able to complete my first degree there. That's something that no one in my family had done ever. I'm trying to create a legacy for my own family and be the role model that a lot of Latinos lack.
Colleen: Charity Mendoza, thanks for sharing you story with us. I’m Alumni Relations Director Colleen Reynolds. Make sure you officially join the Heartland Community College Alumni Association. You can do that by clicking the "Join Us" button on the front of the alumni website. Don’t forget to go to our Events tab. Check out some of the upcoming events that offer fun or a free opportunity to learn from the experts.