Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

Dr. Chela Mendoza Patterson

Dr. Chela Mendoza Patterson

Name: Chela Mendoza Patterson

Hometown: Oxnard

Role on campus: Retired Associate Vice President for Student Life & Interim Chief Diversity Officer

Years on campus: 37

Did you or do you have plans to continue your education beyond a four-year degree? No. My initial plan was just to get a BA. I didn’t have any idea about graduate degrees until about my third year. Luckily, I had a mentor who explained to me I would need to get an MA if I wanted to work in higher education.

Why did you choose Chico? My husband and I were at the University of Maryland, College Park, pursuing graduate’s degrees. Originally from California, we were trying to get a job back in our home state. Chico State offered him a position at the Counseling Center and about two months later, I was offered a position with the Associated Students.

What first sparked your interest in a college education? I always loved to read and loved school. Although no one in my neighborhood had ever gone to college, it was a dream I had since I was a little girl.

What were some barriers that prevented others in your family from completing a four-year degree? My siblings never seemed to thrive in school like I did. They were turned off to pursuing an education beyond high school.

Who can you point to as a mentor or inspiration in your pursuit of a four-year degree and why? My parents were big proponents of education even though they didn’t go to college. I had one uncle who eventually became an attorney and he was my role model.

What does being first-gen mean to you? Being first-gen means that I achieved a higher education despite not having any idea what that would entail. I am terribly proud of that accomplishment.

What challenges do you struggle with or have you overcome as a result of being first-gen? One of the biggest challenges I had as a student was the terrible homesickness I suffered. I think I cried for the first two years every time I had to leave home to come back to school—and I loved school! My parents didn’t really understand what I was studying or what I eventually hoped to do in higher education. As I pursued graduate school, I had to start all over again in terms of understanding how that process worked.

What is your wildest ambition? My wildest ambition was to eventually earn my doctorate in education. I did that in 1998 from University of Southern California.

What message do you want to send other first-gen students? It’s OK to ask for help. Those of us who have already been through this process—not one of us ever achieved our goals by doing things on our own.