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Meet Monica Meza: Not Just an Internship, Beyond My Study Abroad Experience!

Moniza Meza taking a selfie during orientation with students in the background

As a first-generation college student, Monica Meza knows how important it is to feel supported in the field of higher education. It’s why she decided to earn her master of education in higher education administration, to make a difference in the lives of students like her. 

This summer, Meza studied abroad in Prague, and, after she graduates, she hopes to connect first-generation students with similar transformative opportunities they may not have realized existed.

Learn more about Monica Meza

Hometown: Alamance County, North Carolina; born in Mexico

Degree: Master of Education in Higher Education Administration

Activities (Research or Extracurricular): Personal activities include family, hiking, cycling, dancing and cultural performances. Academic activities include volunteering with career services offices and first-generation student organizations.

Why did you choose the NC State College of Education?

Initially, I chose NC State because they have the part-time master’s program I needed due to a current full time job. Eventually, as I spoke to my advisor, [Assistant Teaching Professor] Krispin Barr, I saw the passion she has to connect with the students and provide the best support according to the student’s needs. The faculty in this program are truly supportive to their students. 

Why did you choose your area of study?

I chose this concentration because I am a first-generation, immigrant student who learned along the way how to transition from academic levels to higher education levels.

I want to be part of making information accessible to first-generation students and display opportunities not considered otherwise, such as study abroad. Students need support and someone to brainstorm if their families don’t have this information. Student affairs practitioners are their support system to discuss options. 

What’s your next step? What do you have planned after graduation?

My study abroad experience provided the reality of the disadvantages first-generation students have in considering study abroad during their college years. I am hoping to get involved in this cause, either by being part of a study abroad office, or collaborating with summer pre-college programs to bring this information to high school students in advance.

How has the College of Education prepared you for that next step?

The College of Education provided me with the fundamental foundation to understand the policies that surround education as the U.S. confronts the challenges students face. Student affairs practitioners are the advocates and representatives of students. We are the liaisons in helping make way for the success of students. 

What do you hope to accomplish in your field?

I want to see the number of first-generation students increase in colleges and programs around the United States. I want colleges to be prepared to provide opportunities and answers to students’ challenges. As we continue to do more research on these challenges, we will create programs to support students to have the equity and equality to succeed. 

Do you have a favorite memory from your time in the College of Education?

My whole time in the program was a favorite memory. Every class and meeting was a learning experience. I understood how every student had different challenges, especially during a pandemic. Our professors showed empathy and support to make sure everyone had the tools to proceed in the program and develop the skills necessary to meet the objectives. Personally, the college’s online implementations during the pandemic allowed me to complete the first year of the program from home, as I cared for my ill mother. As colleges opened their campuses, this allowed me to come to experience the master’s program in person with my classmates, building relationships and networks.

Tell us about an experience you had with the College of Education that had the biggest impact on you or your career.

My best experience at the College of Education has been the support and encouragement from my advisor, Assistant Teaching Professor Krispin Barr; Alex Kappus, senior director of Student Success, and Ajaya Francis Jonas, director of Global Programs. They united to make my study abroad opportunity a reality. Not only was the study abroad opportunity an experience that opened my eyes to a field I had never considered in relation to first-generation students, but the fact that these student support practitioners believed in me and made this opportunity happen. Their passion to support me was monumental and life, as well as career, changing.

Why did you choose education?

Isn’t it a beauty to bring the opportunity of education to anyone that wants to grow and be something positive in this life — to make that change? Growing up in a small, poor Mexican town, I never imagined I would attend the best universities in North Carolina, USA — El Norte, the North, as we call it in Mexico. I was given the opportunity to have this change.

I think one of my favorite quotes from Cesar Chavez, the United Farm Workers and farmers’ activist, explains my feelings toward having the opportunity to have an education and make a positive change in society: “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore”.

This post was originally published in College of Education News.