When Erica Mendez first auditioned for a news anchor position at UWW-TV, the campus television station, she didn’t make the cut.
“It was disappointing, but successful people are persistent. You have to try over and over again and not be afraid to fail,” Mendez said.
Now, she’s preparing for the biggest public speaking opportunity of her life – addressing her classmates and their families at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater winter commencement.
The ceremony is Saturday, Dec. 15, at 10 a.m. in the Kachel Fieldhouse.
Mendez grew up in Kenosha and graduated from Indian Trail High School and Academy. Like many students who attend UW-Whitewater, she came to campus a first-generation college student, unsure of what to expect.
“I was on my own for the first time and I didn’t know anybody. The people here were so welcoming and understanding of the difficult transition,” Mendez said. “I began building relationships right away.”
She made connections by joining student organizations, including Latinos Unidos, the International Student Association, the Gospel Choir, and A.L.M.A – a cultural dance and theater group.
Mendez calls her travel study experience to Greece and Turkey in 2011 one of the highlights of her university experience.
“Greece is a place people dream of going to. Turkey really opened my eyes to new cultures and traditions,” she said. “It was one of those moments when I broke out of my shell.”
For the past two years, Mendez has served as a Warhawk Ambassador – chosen to assist at prestigious events and serve as a representative of the UW-Whitewater campus.
“That was one of the coolest things to happen to me. I remember during Homecoming I met with alumni from 40 – 60 years ago. They shared stories about what campus was like when they were students, the chants they used to say at football games. It’s amazing to hear how much has changed.”
Mendez will receive her bachelor of arts degree in journalism, with a minor in integrated marketing communications.
“The business perspective was completely new to me but I loved it,” Mendez said. “Because of my journalism studies, I know how to interact with people and go out into the field to tell stories. It’s a great combination.”
After her initial audition letdown at UWW-TV, Mendez eventually worked her way on-air, filing news reports for the campus newscasts. She tackled behind-the-scenes work as well, serving as camera operator and producer of the Thursday night newscast.
She continues to perfect her skills by working on campus in the Learning Technology Center, which helps faculty and staff members incorporate technology in their courses to enhance learning.
Mendez is a member of Women In Cable Telecommunications, a national organization that provides leadership programs and services for women.
Appropriately, her commencement address will focus on stories – both her own and her classmates’.
“We all have stories that got us to this point in life,” she said. “I hope to inspire my classmates to remember all they learned here at UW-Whitewater and write exciting new chapters for themselves.”