Before coming to Colorado State University, Brissa Chavez Mendoza knew she wanted to pursue a career in health care but wasn’t sure what exact direction she’d take.
She chose a major broad enough to explore several options – biology – and is now graduating from the College of Natural Sciences with aspirations of becoming an occupational therapist.
Born in Chihuahua, Mexico, and raised in Denver, the first-generation college student immersed herself in learning and outreach programs to help guide her exploration of the biology major and everything CSU had to offer and to help other students succeed.
She joined the College of Natural Sciences Learning Community, where she tutored and mentored local children. She served as a learning assistant in the course Life 102 and as part of the Catalyst Learning Program, and she worked on placental sheep tissue in the lab of Associate Professor Gerrit Bouma in the Department of Biomedical Sciences. She also served on the Biology Leadership Council, which helps underrepresented students learn about resources and manage their time at college.
Chavez Mendoza is grateful for the help and support she received through the Community for Excellence program, the Honors Program, and the Denver Scholarship Foundation, as well as the Dream.us Scholarship. Her academic advisor, Abbie Reade, helped her through the toughest parts of navigating CSU, as did Stacey Clark, who created the Catalyst Community and presented her the opportunity to serve in it.
Being a student during the pandemic, especially as the first in her family to attend college, posed some unique challenges.
“I had to relearn how to learn, essentially, because many of the ways I learned were no longer available,” she said. “I greatly appreciated the professors who were understanding during the pandemic and didn’t penalize for things that were out of my control. Through that, I was able to form closer relationships with professors and instructors who I may not have come into contact otherwise.”
Chavez Mendoza will take a gap year before attending graduate school, during which time she will save money, gain experience, and most of all, get a break after earning her degree through a most unusual year.