Leslie Mendez’s passion for animals was the force that led her to CSU’s Department of Animal Sciences in the College of Agricultural Sciences, even though she had no background in farming.
Born in Los Angeles to parents from Guatemala, Mendez grew up in Fort Morgan, a largely agricultural community on Colorado’s Eastern Plains. Unlike other students in her department, however, Mendez came to CSU without any experience in agriculture. Without that background, her journey to her bachelor’s degree was often challenging. But she charted her own pioneering course that led to a double major in Animal Sciences and Agricultural Business. Mendez is also a trailblazer for her family as she is a First Generation Scholar.
“I didn’t know what to expect in college,” says Mendez. “It was all a culture shock and a complete change for me, especially going into an industry where there aren’t a lot of Latina women.”
Mendez’s love of animals drew her to the major of Animal Sciences, but as her passion grew for the agriculture industry she decided to add a second major.
“I didn’t realize everything that goes into this industry,” she recalls. “With what I’ve learned in my coursework from both Animal Sciences and Agricultural Business, it’s definitely opened my eyes to a new world. It’s given me a much greater appreciation for where our food comes from.”
While at CSU, Mendez has immersed herself in programs to learn more about the industry such as MANRRS – Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences. MANRRS provides networks to support the professional development of students and is a springboard for students’ entry into and advancement in their careers.
Through the student organization, Mendez began working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Animal Care unit this year, focused on enforcing the federal Animal Welfare Act. She also co-founded HOLA – Hands-On Learning in Agriculture – at the university for other students who don’t have an agricultural background but want real-world experience in the industry.
“Leslie is one of the most determined and assertive young women that I know,” says Terry Engle, professor of Animal Sciences and advisor for HOLA. “She is an effective communicator, accountable for her actions, exhibits leadership by example, and is willing to work beyond normal expectations to achieve a goal. One thing that became quite clear during the time that I have known Leslie is that she has a contagious enthusiasm for learning and never misses an opportunity to get involved.”
Mendez credits the support of her family, professors, the College of Agricultural Sciences and CSU’s First Generation program for her success. “Through the financial help from the First Generation Scholarship program and from College of Agricultural Sciences scholarships, I’ve been able to be greatly involved with both of my majors as well as the activities of student organizations that support real-world experiences,” she says.
With her background in both animal science and agricultural business, as well as her industry experience, Mendez is excited about her future career in agriculture. Her advice for incoming students: “Find what you’re passionate about. I decided to pursue a dual major because of my passion for this field of study and my work with the industry. If you find your passion, you will succeed.”