CLASS OF 2017 SPOTLIGHT: Stephanie Mendez

May 2, 2017

By Richard Manly

(Photo by Kevin Tran)

Stephanie Mendez’s road to graduation has been fraught with car crashes, wildfires, political debates, drought and terrorist shootings. While in school, these aren’t the kinds of stories the English student wrote about, but rather the kind she covered while working as a full-time national field producer for “ABC News.”Stephanie Mendez

One such story, arguably the most harrowing, came about in the fall of 2015. While sitting in class, she received an email from her news bureau chief asking her to go to San Bernardino to cover the terrorist shootings. For Mendez, being called out of class like that was unusual, so she knew it was no ordinary assignment.

During the following week, she helped with the coverage for more than 16 hours a day while continuing her schoolwork. For their efforts, the ABC News team won two 2016 National Edward R. Murrow Awards given by the Radio Television Digital News Association and her team was honored for overall excellence at the network level and received an award for breaking news, series, use of video and website.

Mendez graduates this month on the Dean’s List of Graduating Masters Students with a GPA of 4.0. In earning her Master of Arts in English, Mendez studied the work of diverse authors such as Ann Petry, Ralph Ellison, Cherrie Moraga and Junot Diaz.

“To say that I feel proud of my 4.0 GPA is an understatement,” said Mendez. “The weekend before I started graduate school, I was doing wildfire coverage in Washington and, on my second day of class, I had to miss school to go to Seattle. I remember thinking, `How am I going to keep up with my school work and succeed in graduate school with this happening?’ I juggled work and school during my first year. It was crazy, but I did it.”

And, as if her life isn’t busy enough, she plays in a band.

“On top of the work/school balance, my punk band was preparing to play a huge festival put on by Kevin Lyman, who started Vans Warped Tour,” she added. She did take some time off work to focus on completing her master’s degree and, in addition, presented at three academic conferences during the semester, including one at Boston College in April.

“Like all of our English M.A. students, Stephanie is not just extremely knowledgeable about subject matter in English literature and rhetoric and composition,” said CSULB English professor Norbert Schürer. “What makes our English graduates stand out, and what many employers are increasingly discovering, is that students such as Stephanie also excel in so-called soft skills such as critical and abstract thinking, problem-solving, communication, teamwork, flexibility and, of course, writing—so they can easily adapt to any new workplace. In addition to all this, our English grads have a fantastic work ethic, strong motivation, leadership skills and integrity so students like Stephanie will change our world for the better.”

Mendez chose CSULB for its balance of quality education at an affordable price.

“I grew up below the poverty line and one of the few benefits to this unfortunate situation was that I received a higher education at almost no cost thanks to grants,” she explained. “I had such an amazing experience at CSULB as an undergrad and knew that the English department had professors of high caliber and sheer brilliance. Choosing CSULB was a very obvious and easy decision.”

Even so, the life of a field producer does not always mesh with the life of a graduate student, especially on that fall day in 2015 when 14 people were killed and 22 others seriously injured in the terrorist attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino.

“When I got the email from our bureau chief to head to San Bernardino, I remember thinking this was big,” she recalled. “For our bureau chief to ask me to head out while I was in class meant this was critical. When I packed my bag for San Bernardino, I included my schoolwork and books. In a moment like this one, my homework might have seemed so trivial and insignificant but I made a commitment when I decided to go back to school, and I took what I needed to take in order to complete my responsibilities.

Helping to cover the San Bernardino shooting was draining, not just physically because of the long work days, but emotionally because of the tragic situation.

“I had never been confronted by the magnitude of tragedy involved in this story and it was difficult to witness,” she said, “but as a journalist, I did what I needed to do and I helped our team with all the necessary coverage.”

Juggling work and graduate school was hectic, especially since being a field producer entails being on-call 24/7 due to the nature of breaking news. That first semester was her busiest one and it really peaked when the San Bernardino shooting took place since it was around the same time as finals.

“Completing my assignments and negotiating the interference of work into my academic life was a struggle but the fact that I was able to succeed despite such a crazy schedule really makes me feel like I can do anything now,” Mendez recalled. “My first year in graduate school was very unorthodox but in the end, I prevailed.”

Her experience as a graduate student has made Mendez a true Forty-Niner.

“I recommend CSULB to potential graduate students all the time,” she said. “This experience has been one of the most positive and productive experiences I’ve had in a very long time, and in a very different way from my career highlights. The faculty in the English department is full of elite and brilliant minds. The quality of education at CSULB has far exceeded my expectations. For potential students seeking an English degree, I especially recommend Dr. George Hart and Dr. Dennis Lopez. Both professors go beyond their roles in the classroom to assist their students and help them grow.”

As part of the 2017 commencement at CSULB, Stephanie Mendez will be graduating in the 9 a.m. ceremony for the College of Liberal Arts on Wednesday, May 24.