For first-generation college students, the most challenging thing is often not having anyone at home to guide or advise them about education. Office manager Alondra Mendoza is no stranger to this situation. Born in Sonoma County to parents who moved to the U.S. from Michoacán, Mexico, she and her five sisters were raised by her mother, who worked as a house cleaner to support them. Alondra liked school but didn’t have access to the technology other students use to do homework and often worried she wouldn’t reach her full potential. Her mother could not help with homework but did encourage her to learn, build a career and strive for a better future.
After graduating high school, as a single mother of two, Alondra went to work as a receptionist in an office, hoping to learn on the job. She enjoyed talking to and helping people. Her employer recognized Alondra’s potential and suggested that she could go back to school to get a certificate in this field.
What Alondra remembers most about her first semester at Santa Rosa Junior College is that she felt scared of the challenges of higher education and just wanted to get a certificate and get out. But soon after arriving at the college, she found support and resources, qualified for financial aid, and discovered how much she loved learning. She achieved her office assistant certificate after two semesters and continued taking classes.
Alondra’s life eventually revolved around the Santa Rosa campus. She got a job working in the Career Education office for the workforce development dean, Brad Davis. Soon after, her two children were accepted to the SRJC Child Development Center, receiving the care and preparation needed to continue their studies.
Alondra said that the executive assistant in Career Education, Alicia Artz, mentored her at work and supported her when she was mourning the death of her mother. “Alicia really helped me flourish. She pushed me to say I am really going to be able to do more than I ever thought because she believed in me,” Alondra said. With the help of Kim Kinahan, her Work Experience instructor, Alondra also learned public speaking and interviewing skills that gave her confidence during job interviews.
Nurtured and mentored by SRJC faculty and staff, Alondra had three successful years in college and, in the summer of 2017, graduated with honors with an administrative office professional associate’s degree.
Right out of college, as she was interviewing for jobs, Alondra found herself once more in a dire situation. She was among the many Sonoma County residents who lost their homes in the 2017 fires and quickly thereafter, her temporary job ended. Her husband also lost all of the tools and vehicles he needed for work and they both became concerned for their future. Once more, Alondra’s answer to hardship was to push herself even more. She applied for every job she could find. She finally got her breakthrough when, out of all the interviews, she received the offer for her dream job – office manager at the Career and Technical Education Foundation of Sonoma County.
“Alicia Artz told me when I first started my journey at SRJC in Career Education, ‘There is no better investment than investing in your education.’ The class lectures and working at the JC gave me the ability to feel what my perfect job might be like. And now I love waking up and going to work every day,” Alondra said.
She is determined to pursue more education, get involved in the Sonoma County Latinx community as a leader and mentor for other first-generation students, and to be an example for her children, taught to put education first.