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Student-athlete selected by Teach For America program

When David Mendez came to Dominican as a freshman, his goal was to score goals. He was the prized recruit for the Penguins’ soccer team and he was set to lead by example. Now, as a senior, Mendez’s goal has taken on a different perspective. The student-athlete wants to connect cultural diversity and educational disparity. He wants to lead by teaching.

The Liberal Studies major and co-captain of the Penguins’ soccer team learned in November that he has been accepted into the Teach For America (TFA) program, a non-profit organization whose mission is to eliminate educational inequity by enlisting high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach for at least two years in low-income communities throughout the United States. Beginning in fall of 2014, Mendez will teach bilingual studies in Newark, New Jersey where, according to TFA data, only 22 percent of ninth graders graduate high school in four years.|

“This is the first step I need to take to really understand educational inequity,” says Mendez, who will graduate from Dominican in May. “Learn how to teach kids who don’t have the resources some kids have. It’s going to be an invaluable tool that I will have in the future when I teach and when I communicate.”

Mendez, who last season was named to the Pacific West Conference All-Academic Team, will pursue his teaching credential in New Jersey while trying to have a positive impact on students. He will do so knowing how fortunate he is to be a part of the Teach For America program. This year, TFA received 60,000 applicants. Only 9.5 percent were accepted.

“I’ve never been happier,” Mendez says. “I’ve always wanted to work with children. It’s all happened and it’s all worked out and I’m so passionate about teaching right now. It’s crazy.”

Helping people is a tradition in the Mendez family. David’s older sister, Eleanna, who was an NAIA All-American soccer player with the Penguins, graduated from Dominican’s nursing program and his younger sister, Julianna, a freshman on this year’s Dominican women’s soccer team, is majoring in Special Education.

“David found his passion working with kids and helping mold young lives into successful members of society,” says Phil Billeci-Gard, the Penguins’ head men’s soccer coach who graduated from Dominican with a BA in English. “In my opinion, aside from a child’s own parents, the greatest influence a child has in his/her life is a teacher. I told David he has a true gift with his natural ability to lead and not to let that go to waste. People will naturally follow him.”

The long range goal now for Mendez is to someday create a charter school with an innovative approach with a health/science twist. His idea is to challenge and prepare kids for college while at same time training them for vocational tracts to be sustainable in life.

“The transformation David has undergone from freshman to senior is second to none,” Billeci-Gard says. “He has taken full advantage of his opportunity at Dominican and is leaving with a distinct career path and prepared to face any challenge.”

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