The COVID-19 pandemic created an array of challenges, forcing us all to rethink and readjust our everyday lives. Yuba College’s faculty and staff were no different, tasked with connecting with their students digitally through remote learning. While challenging for all, Associate Professor of Business Yuliana Mendez saw this as an opportunity to bridge her previous professional career to her students in her digital classroom.
Yuliana’s passion for Yuba College goes back to her teenage years. Born in Yuba City and raised in Live Oak, her parents, who are immigrant farmworkers, emphasized the importance of education to her and her siblings. While attending Live Oak High School, she was recruited to be a part of Yuba College’s first Upward Bound cohort. During the summers in high school, she lived, worked and attended classes on campus.
After graduating with a degree in philosophy from Sacramento State, Yuliana began her eight-year career with the California Legislature. She started as an intern and ultimately became the youngest and first Latina Deputy Director of Gubernatorial Appointments for the California State Senate. During that time, she became interested in business and social entrepreneurship. Eventually, she left politics to pursue an MBA at USC Marshall School of Business. As Yuliana’s world perspective and network of colleagues grew, so did her desire to share her knowledge with the students at Yuba College.
“I owe so much of my career to my experience at Yuba College,” Yuliana explained. “The Upward Bound program opened my eyes to what was possible. I knew that one day I wanted to find a way to give back and help empower my community.”
After business school, she moved back to Live Oak and started a social enterprise that included a youth entrepreneurship program. She applied business and leadership principles to teach high school students and other community members the value of entrepreneurship. In 2018, her dream was finally realized and began as an adjunct business professor at Yuba College.
A New Normal
Last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic limited in-person learning, Yuliana was faced with a new challenge: how to bring a complete educational experience to a segmented digital classroom. While she always tries to infuse her experiences and lessons learned into her curriculum, she realized that the digital classroom created an opportunity to bring other perspectives from colleagues she had encountered throughout her career. She reached out to her classmates from USC who are now working for global corporations, including a supply chain manager at Tesla, a human resources leader at Starbucks, and a finance professional at Mattel to present to her students online. For Yuliana, she hoped the breadth of experiences would show her students the diversity of business fields and help humanize these types of positions.
“I wanted to help my students understand that these professionals are people just like them whose personal experiences and curiosity had helped them get to where they are today,” Yuliana explained. “The presentations helped my students realize that they don’t have to have it all figured out right now and that career paths aren’t linear. It was an incredible experience both for my students and the presenters as well.”
Students, other faculty and leaders at Yuba College took notice of Yuliana’s approach to bringing the business world to their campus. One student wrote in their professor evaluation:
“Ms. Mendez grabbed my attention immediately. I think she has structured the class perfectly, making it very easy to dive right in. The best part is her own personal connections to real-world professionals in part of our lecture activities. This made the course very engaging.”
Dr. Pete Villarreal, Dean of Applied Academics at Yuba College, lauded Yuliana for her innovation and dedication to her students, especially during such a challenging semester.
“Yuba College is proud to have professors like Yuliana who think outside the box to engage and educate our students,” Dr. Villarreal said. “Her creativity opened her students’ eyes to what’s possible and provided a digital education experience that they will carry with them throughout their time at Yuba College and beyond.”
This experience also gave Yuliana a new perspective of what’s possible within her classroom. She plans to continue this new format even when classes reconvene in-person in the future because of its impact. Like moving back to work within the community she called home for so many years, she believes this is another form of giving back to a place that has given her so much.
“I often teach in the classrooms that I took classes in when I was a Yuba College student many years ago,” she said. “I want my students to graduate from Yuba College feeling as empowered as I did. Sharing my experiences and bringing the world to my classroom is a part of that.”