Kean Cougar Daris Mendez heads to Ivy League Graduate School

By: Bhriana Smith | Published May 9, 2016

From the time she was a child, Kean senior, Daris Mendez, 22, was never set on having a boring, uncreative career.

In the fall of 2016, Mendez plans to attend Columbia University in New York
under their developmental psychology program. But the journey to commencement has been anything but easy for Mendez, a first-generation American.

“When I was in kindergarten, I swore I was going to be a singer,” laughed Mendez. “I wanted to be like Selena.”

Mendez attended McKinley Community Elementary School. She stayed there until her family relocated to North Brunswick, when she was in the 7th grade.

Her middle school years were spent at Linwood Middle in North Brunswick. It was in her new school that Mendez dropped the idea of being like Selena, and decided that she was going to be more like a fashion designer.

“My best friend’s mom went to Parson’s School of Design,” said said. “So we had this idea that we were going to be fashion designers,” said Mendez.

She started keeping sketches of her designs. Her new-found hobby of sketching designs seemed like a better idea to Mendez her then hobby of dance, specifically ballet.

Mendez started taking ballet classes at the age of three, and didn’t finish until she was 17, when she decided that she didn’t want to dance for a company.
“It’s taken so seriously,” said Mendez. “The seriousness sucked all the fun out of the dancing for me.”

In the ballet program that Mendez was in, dancing for a company could have potentially been her career. It wasn’t until she was in high school that she realized that perhaps ballet wasn’t her calling.

“I have a love hate relationship with ballet, to this day,” said Mendez.

Her hate, she said, stemmed from the competitive nature of the dance in her school. Her love came from the dancing being her stress outlet.

“In high school, I had this huge crush on this boy who ended up having a crush on my best
friend,” she said. “When I went to practice that night, I poured all my angst into my dancing.”

“My teacher was so shocked at how good my dancing was that day,” joked Mendez.

The summer before her senior year of high school, Mendez encountered a situation that changed her perspective on life completely.

In the summer of 2011, Mendez had returned from the Dominican Republic, her family’s native home. Her ride back to the States was far from comfortable.
“I had this gut feeling that something was wrong,” she said. “I just couldn’t figure it out at the time.”

Mendez recalls feeling anxious that entire day.

“When the plane landed, we couldn’t get off because the plane had to find a gate,” she said. “Once we got off the plane, we had to take a taxi back to New Jersey, and then the taxi had a flat tire.

“Anything that could have went wrong, did go wrong,” she said.

The following day, Mendez woke up to her mother in tears.

“I thought that my grandma had passed away because she was sick and we just came back from visiting her,” she said.

Instead, Mendez’s mother told her that the person who had died was her father. He had been battling alcoholism and died of liver failure.

“It was a total shock,” she said. “I literally couldn’t believe it.”
Mendez’s parents divorced when she was two, and her father relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio in 2007. Despite the distance, Mendez maintained a close relationship with her father.

After the death of her father, Mendez decided that fashion was more of a hobby and that she would feel better doing something that involved helping people.

Not knowing where to go career-wise from there, Mendez took one of those quiz-lets that
matches people with a career based on their personality. The quiz-let matched her with
psychology.

From there, she decided that she wanted to work with children and their
psychological development.

When it was time to apply for college, she applied to Rider University, Pace University, Stockton University and Kean.

“I had my mind set on Rider,” said Mendez. “But $50,000 a year was pretty steep, so I
chose Kean.”

In 2012, Mendez entered Kean and declared a major in psychology until her indecisiveness got the best of her, again. Her EOF counselor, Marilyn Freeland, suggested that she take up a second major. She decided on Communications journalism.

“I always liked to write,” Mendez explained. “Plus, I figured that in case I didn’t like being in the field of psychology, I could write for a magazine like Vogue or Nylon.”

In the end, Mendez is pleased with both her degree choices.
“At first glance I thought there was no point in the communication classes I had to take,” she said. “Then I realized that the classes tied directly with psychology.”

A professor that Mendez attributes so much of the success of her college career to is Verneda P. Hamm Baugh, with whom she took both experimental psychology and honors senior seminar in psychology.

“She is the sweetest teacher I’ve ever had,” said Mendez. “She’s so inspiring and so supportive.”

Mendez ended her undergraduate career under the pressures of GREs, acquiring multiple
recommendation letters and the natural stress from classes.

On May 19th she will be graduating cum laude with both her degrees in tow.
“None of this was easy, but it’s all worth it,” said Mendez.

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