The Journey to Become the 84th Student Body Vice President
Maria Ruiz-Méndez was born and raised in Mexico before migrating with her family to Le Center, Minn., when she was in eighth grade. Her parents moved her to Minnesota to provide a better education and more opportunities for Maria as well as her older sister and younger brother. When she arrived in Le Center, Maria spoke no English and discovered there was no diversity in her small grade of just 32 people. She began teaching herself English through movies, books and computer activities. It was a challenge, but Maria faced it with drive and determination to make her parents proud because of their sacrifice to move far from their home for a better education for Maria and her siblings.
Throughout high school Maria felt that college wasn’t meant for her. Her older sister decided to go back to Mexico for college, and Maria thought that if anything she would do the same. Then she participated in a “Latino First Camp” at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where she discovered what the college experience was really like. She also worked part-time during high school for the City of Montgomery City Council as a translator, which exposed her to government work. Before long, that experience would play a prominent role in her life.
Maria looked at several schools in the state, but ultimately decided to attend Minnesota State Mankato after a touring campus. She liked its proximity to Le Center, which was neither too far from or too close to home. What cemented her decision was the diversity she saw on campus and the individuals who spoke Spanish. “It felt like home,” she says. Meeting Spanish speaking professionals with similar stories to her own at the University helped her transition and provided her resources to succeed.
Now in her senior year, Maria is pursuing dual degrees in International Relations and Spanish, as well as a Political Science minor. She has been very active during her time on campus, serving as Student Ambassador for Institutional Diversity, President of the Latino Student Wellness Program, Community Advisor for Residential Life, Senator with Minnesota State Student Association (MSSA) and most recently the 84th Student Body Vice President with MSSA.
As a senator, Maria learned about issues on campus from the students’ perspective, became aware of policies and wanted to help by becoming a resource for her peers. After a conversation with now Student Body President Faical Rayani, a decision was made to run together. It wasn’t about the title, Maria said, it was that “our advancement is for the advancement of others.” She gathered friends and colleagues to form a party, which became a great support system. Even in times of doubt, they were there for one another, encouraging each other along this journey. “This experience has been a well-rounded professional development opportunity and has given me practical experience,” Maria said.
There have been challenges along the way, including balancing being a student and being held accountable as a leader to make positive decisions, but there have also been many rewarding opportunities for Maria in her vice president role. Maria feels she is able to help students and to be the platform to help others to learn by teaching and guiding them to develop, as well as being a resource for those students. Maria said, “In a leadership position you don’t always hear the good things so when a student says thank you, it means a lot.” It’s rewarding for Maria to give students a voice here on campus, especially when they don’t know who to talk to.
As her leadership role with MSSA comes to a close this spring, Maria looks to the future after she graduates in December 2017. She hopes to work for the Mexican Consulate in Minneapolis after graduation. Maria has been connecting with the Mexican Consulate this past year and has created a personal relationship with them. Her dream position would be to serve as an ambassador to Mexico. While she will continue her last semester here at Minnesota State Mankato without an active role in MSSA, she will miss the connections she has made and the opportunity to tackle issues as well as the busyness of filling her calendar with meetings, which has become “a part of life.” Maria hope MSSA will continue reaching out to students by representing and serving the student population while adapting to new challenges for years to come. She says MSSA is about serving students, having fun and supporting one another through it all.