California Native and Transfer Student Finds Direction, Independence and Endless Opportunities
April 29, 2022
Area of study: Business Administration ‐ General Business Concentration
Irene Mendoza may only be 22 years old, but she’s had a head and heart for business for over a decade.
Maybe it was the influence of her mother’s accounting background and the frequent talks they’d have about finances when she was growing up, or the natural instincts she began honing as a little girl when her favorite playtime activity was “selling things.” Whatever the case, by the time she hit middle school, that make-believe pre-teen entrepreneurial spirit blossomed into making money. From selling homemade hair bows to chocolate chip cookies (something she says she’s known for) and freelancing her artwork for graphic design projects in high school, there’s never been a doubt in her mind about what her future holds.
“I’ve been a business major since I was 12-years-old," Mendoza jokes. “I’ve just known most of my life what I wanted to do. I’ve had multiple small businesses and I hope to have others in the future. It’s something I’m passionate about.”
Despite the fact that Mendoza has lived in California her entire life and feels most at home on the beaches near Long Beach and enjoying the diverse cuisine around Los Angeles, when it came time to think about where she wanted to go to college, Greeley and UNC were no stranger to her. Her father, Armando Mendoza ‘94, is a UNC alumnus.
“UNC has always been an option because of my father,” Mendoza said. “But I always thought of it as a ‘Cowtown.’ Why would I go there?”
Needless to say, when Mendoza applied to UNC as a senior in high school, it wasn’t at the top of her list. Her original plan was to attend the same university as her sister in Arizona, but that didn’t work out.
“So, I was like, you know what, I’m going to wait it out and see. I’m not going to move to Colorado. That’s too crazy.”
Mendoza's version of waiting it out was attending classes at the community college where her father teaches in Cypress, Calif. When it was time to transition to a four-year institution to earn her bachelor’s degree, she applied everywhere — and eventually wound up following in her father’s footsteps, making the crazy decision to move to Colorado to earn her business degree at UNC’s Monfort College of Business.
“It just seemed like the best option because UNC took all of my classes,” Mendoza said. “They made it super easy. I was even able to plan with them the semester before I transferred to see what classes I needed.”
While transferring her credits to UNC was easy, Mendoza admits that wasn’t always the case being a transfer student, particularly during a pandemic. In a new environment, without the benefit of the friendships she certainly would have made as a freshman or sophomore, Mendoza credits the connections she made in UNC’s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as her main source of support. Her first roommate introduced her to the club, and she joined the month after coming to campus.
“This club has been so impactful for me because it was my first chance of making friends here,” Mendoza said. “They are such a welcoming group, I’ve felt at home just because of them.”
Beyond the friendships she has formed, she said one thing she has really appreciated is the group's focus on tapping into individual ethnic identities and exploring how to be a Christian while also respecting other peoples’ cultures.
“My dad is Mexican and my mom is white,” Mendoza said. “Being a woman and a Latina here, I feel like I’m seen here. I know UNC cares, so that's been a wonderful thing.”
Over the past two years, Mendoza said she has come to love living in Greeley, despite the fact there are no local beaches and maybe a little because she got to experience her first snow here. But she’s quick to point out that she didn’t come for the city, she came for the school.
“The second I got here, I saw how amazing the professors are,” Mendoza said. “There’s 20 to 30 people at most in your classes and you can email your professor and they will respond within 20 to 30 minutes. They have also been so nice and welcoming and have offered extra support. It really does feel like a private school, but it’s a public school.”
Mendoza said she chose UNC’s business program because of how much it has to offer and how much she can do with her degree. The ability to choose General Business as an area of concentration meant she could also choose classes that aligned with the interest she already had in social media and digital marketing.
“I fell in love with graphic design in high school,” Mendoza said. “That, combined with my love of business led to digital marketing. It’s just kind of how my brain works.”
Mendoza has been able to complete an additional certification in Digital Marketing and found a job on campus where she has been able to put her talents into practice. As a student assistant at UNC’s Center for Career Readiness, Mendoza helps with many things, including creating content for some of their social media channels. She also gained real-world experience through her internship last semester with #ICANHELP, a nonprofit organization that educates and empowers students to create positive online communities and become inspirational digital citizens. In that position, Mendoza led two social media campaigns, one on anti-bullying and one promoting kindness.
“At the beginning of last semester, I was still unsure if I truly wanted to go into marketing,” Mendoza said. “But this internship clearly showed me, this is exactly what I want to be doing. It was kind of amazing.”
Clearly, #ICANHELP also thought this is the kind of work Mendoza should be doing as they hired her as a marketing manager after graduation. Because that position is only part-time, Mendoza is also taking on an additional internship in social media marketing for one of her favorite brands, Dippin’ Daisy’s, a female-founded swimwear company committed to reducing its environmental footprint. It’s a position she found, naturally, by following their Instagram feed. Mendoza is especially excited about this opportunity as it combines her love of fashion and passion for sustainability.
“I feel like that’s what both women and Gen Z have to offer for the next generation,” Mendoza said. “We know that things need to change in specific ways and we’re going to make that change.”
When asked where she'd like to be in five years, Mendoza laughs, “that’s the question I’ve been asking myself for the past three months.”
She’s already started on her goal of working in social media marketing and would love to climb the corporate ladder with a company in the fashion industry. But if that doesn’t work out, she’s not ruling out doing something of her own.
“I have a heart for small businesses,” Mendoza said. “Even if that doesn’t happen, I might do my own small business. There are so many options for me.”
Two days after graduation, Mendoza is headed back to the beaches of California, to her new job and internship — and maybe more importantly, back to her family. She’s taking with her more than just a new college degree and her experiences of the past two years, she’s taking a new sense of confidence and accomplishment.
“My mom always said that ever since I was 16, I could run my own household,” Mendoza said. “I think I’ve shown myself that I really can do it. I came here in the middle of a pandemic, I’ve been living alone, working while going to school and applying for jobs.
“I really created a home for myself here. And that’s been wonderful.”
‐ written by Deanna Herbert