Colin Powell School
Never-Ending Curiosity: Diego Mendoza’s Journey from DR to Washington Heights to Washington, DC
After experiencing firsthand the heartbreaking cutbacks to academic and extracurricular programs at his high school, Diego Mendoza developed an insatiable curiosity about the politics and policies that lead to these changes. Attracted by CCNY’s affordability, he joined the Colin Powell School determined to make his mother proud and to build a career in public service. He participated in the Semester in DC program and studied abroad for eight months in France. These experiences helped him land a job in the New York State Executive Chamber after graduation. Mendoza encourages future students, even those with limited spare time, to explore the fellowship, internship, study abroad, and other programs available at CCNY and apply for these opportunities early in their college journey.
Please share a little about your background.
I was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in 1993. My mother and I migrated to NYC when I was six years old. We lived in the Bronx for a few years and then permanently moved to Washington Heights, 158th St.
What drove you to come to City College and study public policy?
Nothing drove me more towards an education than to make my mother and family proud. She worked hard as a single mother in a new country. I wanted to show her that her efforts were not only recognized by me but would lead to great things.
What drove me to choose the major that I did was my never-ending curiosity about politics. I can trace this back to my experience in public school during a time of swift and aggressive defunding of school programs. I attended Louis D Brandeis high school down by 84th Street in Manhattan. During my junior year, I took my first music class. I played the Alto-Saxophone and was quite good. So good in fact, the teacher pulled me aside after class one day and asked me if I would be interested in advanced band class the following year. Perhaps three weeks later, the same teacher pulled me aside after class and informed me the music program had been the first program to be cut out of the budget for next year. I was heartbroken, and this got me thinking about what kind of policies lead up to this. My high school ended up getting closed and separated into four different schools just one year after my graduation. This experience sparked a deep curiosity about public policy and politics.
How has your career unfolded, and how did the Colin Powell School help you along the way?
After several months of interviewing that began in October of 2021, I was offered a position at the Executive Chamber of NY. (This is the Governor's Office of New York State). The Colin Powell School was instrumental to my success. I participated in the Semester in DC program where I got to network with some of the most important people in Washington, DC today. During this time, I got the opportunity to speak to people like Antony Blinken, former Vice President Joe Biden, who was running for president at the time, and lastly the man himself, Colin Powell. Moreover, I got to participate in a foreign exchange program and was fortunate enough to spend eight months in Reims, France. I believe these doors to success could only be opened at a marvelous school like CCNY. I will be forever grateful to this institution.
What was your most significant accomplishment or memory from your time at CCNY?
I think my most memorable accomplishment was attending the Semester in DC program. Living in DC, networking with the greatest minds in the country while making life-long friendships was priceless and something I'll carry with me for the rest of my life. Living in France for eight months was a very close second.
How have you been involved with City College since your graduation? What motivates you to stay involved?
Since my graduation I've tried my best to keep in touch with former professors and faculty. Dean Andrew Rich has been the biggest reason for me to return and help in any way I can. Dean Rich accepted me into the Semester in DC program and from there my life changed forever. The biggest take away from my interactions with him was the motto of "paying it forward". He is big on that, and I try every day to keep that spirit alive. Any time I come across a particular opportunity I reach out to him first for his advice. For example, the day after I accepted my position with the Executive Chamber, I got a call from a Congressional office I was interviewing with. They called after I sent an email about accepting another offer and asked if I knew anyone who would be interested in the position. I immediately forwarded the details to Dean Rich because I don't know anyone who is a better judge of character.
Do you have any advice for future students?
Do your very best to explore the tools and resources available at CCNY. I understand college life is different for every student and after-school responsibilities will vary from student to student. But if you find yourself with a few hours to spare, please visit the career center, the Colin Powell School’s Office of Student Success, and the Study Abroad Office. Figure out what programs are available, and apply! College life passes by faster than you think, and I want everyone to experience as much of it as possible.