By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
Callista Mendoza fell in love with Grand Canyon University so quickly, she decided to attend the University without even knowing what her degree program would be.
When her first choice wasn't available, she tapped her interest in politics by majoring in Government with an Emphasis in State and Local Public Policy in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. It led to her most recent endeavor, a contracted position as a field representative for the Leadership Institute.
“This position with the Leadership Institute is already opening so many doors for me,” she said. “It is a great opportunity to work in the realm of my degree program and broadens my personal and professional development. It has pushed me to go out of my comfort zone and live somewhere where I do not have any friends nor family within five or more hours from me.”
The Leadership Institute is a nonprofit that provides training on how to become successful in politics, government and media. Her position, which runs for 13-16 weeks, has her traveling to colleges and universities around northern Texas helping conservative groups on campus start clubs and plan events.
The organization has a growing reputation in conservative politics and is credited by Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, with preparing him for the campaign trail.
It is an opportunity for which Mendoza feels prepared thanks to her time as a student in the Honors College.
“I would not have this position if it wasn’t for the Honors College and what they have taught me over the last two years,” she said. “They have helped me develop and flourish into this super-extroverted, somewhat well-spoken individual.”
It is a big move for the California native to spend the semester in Texas rather than on GCU’s campus, but the Honors College helped make the opportunity not only possible but reassuring as well.
As the current National Society of Collegiate Scholars President and Vice President of Operations for the Honors College Student Advisory Board, Mendoza was worried that being away from campus for the semester would require her to give up the roles that she had put so much effort into achieving. But Honors College Associate Dean Dr. Breanna Naegeli didn’t want the fear of Mendoza losing her roles to keep her from such a big opportunity and allowed her to remain in both positions.
That level of understanding has been an ongoing theme for the Honors College during Mendoza's time in the college. From her earliest memory to her most recent, she and her service dog, Darius, have continued to feel welcomed and accepted.
“The move to GCU was really crazy, and because they were so welcoming and inviting, when there were opportunities to have leadership positions in the Honors College on the Student Advisory Board and the NSCS board I jumped on that,” she said. “They were always so gracious, patient and understanding of me, and I wanted to give that to other students coming in.”
It’s something Mendoza hopes to bring into her role with the Leadership Institute as well.
Growing up in a community that has a strong disdain for government, Mendoza often felt out of place for having an interest in politics. She hopes that by engaging in the political sphere, she can help make a difference.
“I also grew up, not in my household but with the other people around me, saying that politicians are the scum of the earth and that the government is the scum of the earth,” she said. “I really think that is a horrible thing to teach a child.
“I want to go into government of some sort, just to be able to establish some sort of program or teach other little girls and little kids my age that it’s OK to be interested in government and politics at a young age and it’s not all bad and scary.”
In her new role, Mendoza is taking the steps to turn that goal into a reality. But the Leadership Institute is just the beginning. Since starting her work with the organization, she has received several offers to work in election campaigns.
The possibilities are endless for Mendoza moving forward, but for now she simply plans to see where life takes her.
“I’m definitely keeping my heart open to different things, and obviously it’s whatever God wants me to do,” she said.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].