Lina Mendez’s career has always been one of intention (“I want to work with Chicano/Latino students. ... I want to make a difference in the lives of young people”), a trait that serves her well as she leads UC Davis’ efforts to become a federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution, or HSI.
Because, as she explained on the latest edition of Face to Face With Chancellor May, while other institutions have waited until receiving their first grants before appointing HSI directors, UC Davis did it the other way around.
“I have to say that UC Davis has really been proactive and leading the way,” she said, noting the university has been “intentional about how do we get to HSI in a thoughtful manner that will sit well with our campus community, who we are and how we move forward.”
And, so while we have not yet reached the threshold of 25% Hispanic/Latino undergraduate enrollment to become an HSI, we already have the structure in place, including an HSI Community Council that recently received a Social Justice Award.
‘It’s not just grants’
“Becoming HSI is not just about the grants — which a lot of people think that, right?” Mendez said. “It has never just been about the money. It’s about how do we transform people’s experiences” — something she began doing as the founding associate director of the Center for Chicanx and Latinx Academic Student Success, or El Centro, from 2016 to 2021, when she became the director of HSI Initiatives.
She joined UC Davis as a Ph.D. student, earning her degree in educational policy and school organization in 2010, then worked as a postdoc at UC Davis Health, doing research on Latinos and mental health. After that, she was determined to get back to Davis campus, to work with students.
“And I found myself overqualified with the Ph.D. and underqualified [for other positions], because I didn’t have student affairs experience,” she told the chancellor. So she took a temporary job in Undergraduate Education, working at the Center for Educational Effectiveness, helping to train TAs and working with faculty learning communities.
Then along came the associate director’s position at El Centro. “And I said, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for and what I’ve been wanting.”
Now she has campuswide influence, and Chancellor May asked her what she sees the campus looking like after five to 10 years as an HSI.
“I would really like for our students to feel like they can see people, faculty, that look like them, administrators that look like them.
“I would love for them to see buildings that are named after a Chicano/Latino person on our campus. I would like for some of the food, for some of the drinks — you know, I think of café de olla, Mexican hot chocolate. Obviously, pan dulce is something they always want in Davis.
“So it’s, to me, I feel like those are the moments where people start really feeling like they belong. That the university is here to serve them and their needs. And that’s how we’ll know that we are successful as an HSI.”