Success Stories

Service-learning opportunities spark educational, career goals for first-generation WCSU alumna

Ana Mendieta

Ana Mendieta

Like many of her peers at Danbury High School, Ana Mendieta had immigrated to Fairfield County at age 10 from Ecuador. By the time she was ready to graduate from DHS, it seemed logical that as a fluent bilingual speaker in Spanish and English, a future as a Spanish teacher made sense. Her high school guidance counselor suggested she look at two local community colleges and Western Connecticut State University as her higher education options.

“I went to an Upward Bound Financial Aid night, and a WCSU Admissions counselor told me I would be able to attend WCSU,” Mendieta said. “They sat and helped my father and I complete a FAFSA form, and the assistance they gave us convinced me that WCSU was where I needed to go.”

Enrolled as a Secondary Education – Spanish major, Mendieta had an encounter during Orientation with Professor of World Languages and Cultures Dr. Alba Skar-Hawkins that would change her entire educational and career trajectory.

“That day, Dr. Skar-Hawkins helped me change my schedule to take upper-level Spanish courses. The courses turned out to be very political and there was a very forward-thinking approach in trying to serve underrepresented students,” Mendieta said. “As a first-generation student, I appreciated the emphasis on the value of getting involved for the greater good. WCSU sparked an interest in service learning in me.”

Mendieta changed her major to Political Science with a minor in Spanish and acted upon her ignited interest in service learning. She was a founding member and vice president of LETRA, a campus world languages club. She became chief justice of the Student Government Association (SGA) and worked as an ambassador with the Admissions Office. She often spent 15-hour days on campus between her coursework, club and leadership duties and ambassador obligations. “I was very engaged,” she said. “I loved being part of the community and it was clear to me that working very hard gets great results.”

After her 2014 graduation, Mendieta worked for a higher education nonprofit as a college adviser for Harlem Children’s Zone. After several years, she left to join the staff at SUNY Maritime as a success coach and eventually was promoted to oversee their Educational Opportunity Program.

Mendieta continued her educational aspirations, too: earning a master’s degree in Higher and Postsecondary Education at Teachers College at Columbia University in Manhattan in 2018. She’s now a doctoral candidate for an Ed.D. in Executive Leadership from St. John Fisher University at its Iona satellite campus. Her thesis is entitled “STEM Identity and the Latinx Women Experience.”

While pursuing her Ed.D., Mendieta also is currently employed as the Assistant Director of Multicultural Affairs at Sacred Heart University, where her work focuses on providing a safe space for underrepresented students; overseeing cultural celebrations; and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) initiatives, among other things.

It’s been a far more ambitious path toward serving the greater good than Mendieta first envisioned as an incoming college student.

“I want to get across how important WCSU was in my ability to break away from the stereotype of a Latina growing up in an immigrant home,” Mendieta said. “I was very unprepared when I first arrived and didn’t know how to navigate, but I received an immense amount of support from peers, faculty and staff. That’s why I feel it’s vital to support the schools in your backyard. The work being done at state schools is so important. Literally the best thing I could have done for myself was attend WCSU.”



Western Connecticut State University changes lives by providing all students with a high-quality education that fosters their growth as individuals, scholars, professionals and leaders in a global society. Our vision: To be widely recognized as a premier public university with outstanding teachers and scholars who prepare students to contribute to the world in a meaningful way.