Alumni Spotlight: Sara Mendez, 2016


Rachel Bunning

Alumnus Sara Mendez graduated from SHPRS with her master’s degree in history in 2016. 

Mendez answered a few questions about her current position, her time with SHPRS and tips for current students.

Tell us a little bit about your current position and you found yourself there.

Currently, I work at a high school in Salem, Ore. as a registrar. I evaluate curriculum, process enrollments, coordinate graduation and assist students with their academic plans in high school. I have been in this position for ten years and love it. I moved from Mesa, Ariz. in 2006 and happened to stumble into this position and found that I loved it and have been here ever since.

Growing up, were you always interested in history?

Growing up, I loved history. The first time I watched “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” as a very young girl, all I ever wanted to do was study history. Both of my parents are history buffs so unlike all my friends who visited Disneyland, I spent most of my childhood visiting national historic landmarks like Little Big Horn and the Lewis and Clark museum. I watched countless documentaries on World War II history, the Civil War and British history growing up, so I feel like history was always in my blood.

What attracted you to the graduate history program at ASU?

What attracted me most to the ASU history program was how well organized and informed the staff were. I came into the program as the first cohort so there were some bumps to work out, but overall I felt like the professors and staff were all well informed and we worked out any issues together. Having the convenience of an online master's was also part of what appealed to me. There were other schools that I could have picked but after talking with Dr. Penelope Moon about the program as well as the SHPRS staff, I was completely sold on ASU as the school to best suit my needs. There were regular check-ins and I loved that there was someone available when I needed help or guidance. The professors all had a vested interest in my success and I couldn't have done it without them!

Tell us about your time with SHPRS.

The only way I can describe me time at SHPRS is challenging. I waited five years between my bachelor's degree and my master's degree and if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't have waited. I fell out of academic writing practice, so the first term at ASU I spent trying to get back into the 'groove'. After that first term, I felt much better about being back in school. Each class was interesting and challenging in new ways. What I liked best about the classes was that a lot of what we were learning was still relevant in modern society. It wasn't just dates on a timeline. We were learning about social issues and how those issues affected not just history but the present as well. I never felt bored in any of my classes.

Did SHPRS and your degree help in preparing you for your current position?

I need a master's to advance in my career. I ultimately want to be a registrar at a college which requires a master's.

Was there a defining moment with your academic career?

When I was putting the finishing touches on my capstone paper and defense, it finally hit me, I'm an academic. In all my schooling I never felt like I was a 'master' or 'expert' in anything until I started putting together that final project. I watched my defense multiple times before I turned it in, and when I watched it I couldn't believe how much I knew about my topic. In that moment, I finally felt like I belonged in the world of academia. Even though I work in education and I excelled in my bachelor's program, I never felt like an 'expert' on anything but when I looked at my defense and my paper, it looked professional and my supporting research was compelling. I had never been more proud of myself in that moment.

What is the most useful thing you learned that you can still apply today?

I think the most useful thing that I learned in my master's program is to have confidence in myself. In my last term, I was struggling in a class...well struggling in my mind. I was getting a B. I emailed my professor, Dr. Penelope Moon, and she reminded me how important it is to have confidence in myself and to stop doubting myself. I was upset at the time, but in the end I was thankful for everything she told me.

Do you have any tips for current students?

Find an organizational strategy that works for you and live by it. I checked my email multiple times a day, as well as BlackBoard and if anything was unclear, I asked. Don't be afraid to be a bother. I am sure I drove people crazy with my posts and emails when I had questions but I just kept telling myself, 'If I have a question, someone else might too.'