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Continuing her nursing dream in Eau Claire: UW-Eau Claire – Barron County grad Celina Mendoza

| Denise Olson

Photo caption: Although she once felt nervous speaking to people in public, Celina Mendoza has become a highly valued student staff member at the UW-Eau Claire ‒ Barron County library, where she fills many roles, including assisting students in their academic research. (Photo by Shane Opatz)

For Celina Mendoza, accepting her associate of arts and sciences degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire ‒ Barron County on May 20 is a major accomplishment, both for her own goals and for her family.

“I’m the first in my family to earn a degree of any kind,” Mendoza says. “My mom raised four girls on her own; she’s always been my biggest supporter in plans to go to college, as long as I tried not to go too far away.”

Mendoza, a native of Juda in southern Wisconsin, chose to begin her pursuit of a nursing degree at UW-Eau Claire ‒ Barron County for several reasons, including a location close enough to occasionally make it back home.  

“As a wait-listed applicant to UW-Eau Claire, I was contacted by staff in Barron County about the option to complete general requirements and nursing prerequisites at the Rice Lake campus,” Mendoza says. “After a visit to UWEC-BC, I decided it was an excellent option. I have been able to live on campus and have a typical college experience, if on a smaller campus.

“Because of COVID-19, some classes were online, which worked out fine. All the faculty are great, and I was able to save a bit on tuition costs for two years before transferring to UW-Eau Claire.”

Mendoza says she will be living on campus in Eau Claire as well, where she looks forward to reconnecting with some Blugold friends and having the opportunity to officially enroll in the bachelor’s degree program in nursing.

A passion for helping children

Mendoza always has loved being around young children and says that growing up, she always thought she would become a teacher. That dream changed, however, after becoming a certified nursing assistant her sophomore year in high school and working summers in a nursing home.

“As a kid who started babysitting at a really young age, it just seemed natural to someday become a teacher — I just really love being around and helping kids,” she says. “However, my summer CNA job showed me how fulfilling it can be to help people in a medical type of setting, so I’ve shifted my career plans to pursuing a pediatric nursing job.”

Mendoza says that a perfect blend of her passions for children and for helping people would be to work as a nurse with children who have special needs.

“I’d love to be able to care for kids who need more than just the pure medical care, and just be there for them,” she says. “The nursing school at UW-Eau Claire is so highly respected, I’m just so anxious to be accepted and enroll in my nursing program.”

Building communication and leadership skills in library work-study

Mendoza says that another advantage for her in attending and living on campus at UW-Eau Claire ‒ Barron County was the availability of work-study positions at the campus, which proved to be a highly impactful experience for her.

“The campus does a great job of advertising open work-study jobs, and during my second semester I began a job in the library,” she says. “The first semester was a little out of the ordinary because the stacks and study areas were closed off to students during COVID-19; we could just help them find what they needed through the desk and check the materials out.”

Now that the library is back to full operations, Mendoza has taken on many new responsibilities and special projects, roles she admits she was once probably too shy to have done well.

Cecelia Cole, former academic librarian at the Barron County campus, agrees that Mendoza demonstrated tremendous growth as a work-study student, one who graduated from performing just basic assistant duties to overseeing many essential library operations.

“Celina is dedicated in everything that she does, always ready and willing to help and give it her all,” Cole says. “It was so wonderful to see her apply her creativity and passions in projects. Her book collections and displays were always appreciated for being both eye-catching and educational for users of the library.”

Cole says customer service and interpersonal skills are key to successful work in a library, and she witnessed those aspects of Mendoza’s job performance grow in ways that she feels will become assets to a career in nursing.

“When customer situations required a bit of finesse or managerial skills, Celina had the intuition to handle those circumstances properly — I was really proud of her in that regard,” Cole says.

Mendoza also recalls moments when her role in the library required stepping a bit out of her comfort zone, but she’s grateful for those experiences as she is now much more prepared for a career that will rely heavily on effective communication skills.

“I was given the chance to do projects about topics important to me, like expanding the library’s collection of fiction by ethnically diverse authors,” she says. “Working here has really helped me to gain confidence in my own leadership. I was given more and more responsibility because I showed that I could handle it. It has been so nice to feel really respected for my contributions.”

As she transitions to life on the UW-Eau Claire campus, Mendoza intends to bring her professionalism and confidence to her pursuit of a bachelor of science in nursing degree — and maybe even a student job in McIntyre Library.