Student Spotlight: Mary Mendoza

Mary Mendoza Preps for a Culinary Career

Mary Mendoza is standing in a kitchen and smiling. She is wearing a white chef’s hat and coat.

Welcome to Student Spotlights, a series presented by Disability Support Programs and Services (DSPS) featuring the success stories of students and alumni who participate in our program. Today, we are highlighting the achievements of San Diego Mesa College student Mary Mendoza.

Mesa College’s Culinary Arts and Culinary Management program is one of only a few in the nation that operates a classroom-driven public restaurant. Mendoza has excelled in the program and is currently completing the final course for her Certificate of Achievement.

Mendoza’s love for making food and feeding people propelled her through the ongoing pandemic and many other obstacles. Recalling a favorite part of the culinary program, she said:

“I got to make food items with the recipe that I was given by my chef. I made appetizers, entrees, salads, bread rolls, soups and desserts. When I was done making the food item, I felt the love and support from the room. I am very proud of myself.”  

Throughout her higher educational journey, Mendoza found support in SDCCD’s College 2 Career (C2C) program, which assists students with intellectual disabilities or autism spectrum disorder with transitioning out of the college setting and into independent, competitive employment.

Mendoza, who has Williams Syndrome and congenital heart disease, described how her disability has impacted her college experience.

“Sometimes I have heart murmurs, and it's very scary for me. I am also a very sensitive person, and I sometimes don't know if people are telling jokes or not, so sometimes I don't understand and feel like I'm being made fun of.”

She credited C2C with navigating some of the fear, isolation, and insecurity that so often accompanies college life, especially for folks with disabilities.  

“They have helped me through getting my homework done, personal situations, and crises,” she said. “They have helped me be more confident and now I can make anything I put my mind to.”

In addition to her studies, Mendoza is currently putting her mind to her part-time position at San Diego Safari Park’s Okavango restaurant. There, she takes orders and assembles specialty items like kids bags, kids drinks, and adult souvenir cups.

“I love taking orders even though it can be hard,” she said. “I enjoy being in the spotlight. I love doing nachos and serving slurpees. It's fun for me.”  

Natacia Cordle, C2C Coordinator, attributes Mary’s “outgoing personality, willingness to help others, and positive outlook” to her success.

“She is a role model to other students struggling to overcome educational and employment barriers to reach their goals,” said Cordle.

Mendoza’s advice for students with disabilities similar to hers illustrates the qualities Cordle described.

“Just be yourself at college,” said Mendoza. “Show the greatest side of you, and shine your light in all you do. That is how you will make the greatest friends.”

Outside of the classroom and the kitchen, Mendoza is certainly shining a bright light in all she does. A foodie through and through, she enjoys watching videos of people making food on social media and especially likes when fast-paced techniques and voiceovers are utilized. She also has a soft spot for whimsical entertainment, spending her free time browsing Disneyland videos and blogs, watching puppet-oriented television programs like The Muppets and Sesame Street, and visiting San Diego’s newly opened Sesame Place.

Echoing the timeless, compassionate sentiments of beloved characters like Mickey, Kermit, Elmo et al., Mendoza offered these wise parting words for folks who might not understand what it’s like to live with disabilities:

“Be kind to people who have a harder life than you. Show them you care for them. That's all we need, is love.”

Thank you, Mary, for allowing us to lift up your story! Readers, please check back in soon for more Student Spotlights, and don’t hesitate to visit the DSPS website to find out about the services available for SDCCD students with disabilities.

Student Spotlights, presented by Disability Support Programs and Services, feature success stories from ambitious SDCCD students and alumni whose participation in DSPS has helped them reach meaningful education and/or employment goals.