Commencement 2023: Zoey Mendoza developed a passion for service, leadership at URI

Brookline resident graduated May 20 with a degree in medical laboratory science

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 24, 2023 – When Zoey Mendoza entered the University of Rhode Island in fall 2019, she flirted with playing field hockey and softball, as she had done in high school in Brookline, Massachusetts.

After considering the time commitment, she realized there were a lot of other things she wanted to experience.

“My biggest goal when I came here was to make the most of my time,” said Mendoza, who graduated Saturday from URI with a bachelor of science degree in medical laboratory science. “As much as I have loved playing sports, I wanted to open myself up to different things at the same time.”

Consider that mission accomplished. A student in the Honors Program, Mendoza combined academic success with a growing passion for service and leadership in her four years at URI.

Entering URI, Mendoza, whose mother is a nurse and whose father works in biotechnology, knew she wanted to pursue a career in medicine, and set her sights on becoming a medical laboratory scientist. The URI College of the Environment and Life Sciences’ four-year program, which includes an 11-month internship, prepares students to work in any medical lab or in biomedical and public health industries.

“I think it’s a great program,” said Mendoza, who completed her senior-year internship at Rhode Island Hospital and earned her national certification–on her first try. “There’s a lot of need in the field right now, but we’re getting so much hands-on experience and working alongside professionals who are actually doing the tests that it sets you up really well for a job.”

At URI, she leaned in hard on service activities and added a minor in leadership studies, to go with another in chemistry. Her first year, she quickly joined the University’s Habitat for Humanity chapter and URI Service Corps, the alternative spring break program during which students take part in service trips.

“I definitely found a passion for community service and giving back,” she said. “I see it in a few ways. I see it as the right thing to do as a person who has the privilege of going to college and who comes from a financially stable home. And there’s a lot of suffering in the world and I want to do what I can to bridge the gaps where society has failed people.”  

Through the Leadership Studies Program, Mendoza found confidence in taking leadership roles. Going into the program, she envisioned a leader as someone who naturally takes charge, the loudest person in the room. 

“I saw leadership studies as an opportunity to step out of my shell a little bit. I was an introvert so I thought the program might help me gain more confidence in taking the lead once in a while,” she said. “From the very beginning at the First-Year Leadership Institute, I was shown that anyone can be a leader, even someone like myself.”

In her four years, she has served as president and vice president of URI’s Habitat chapter, peer leader and mentor in the Center for Student Leadership Development, and vice president for the Student Organization Leadership Consultants. She has also been a leader on alternative spring break service trips to New Orleans, Philadelphia and in Rhode Island. This spring, she was a finalist for the Robert L. Carothers Servant Leadership Award–the third time she has been nominated.

Alison Jackson Frasier, coordinator for the Student Leadership Program, has known Mendoza since she attended the First-Year Leadership Institute.  She nominated Mendoza this spring for the Servant Leadership Award.

“To say that Zoey has had a tremendous impact on both the program and students in the Center for Student Leadership Development is an understatement,” said Jackson Frasier. “She helped us to lead and adapt our programs through COVID and persevered through this difficult time.” 

While her university career is coming to an end, Mendoza continues to take advantage of giving back. After wrapping up her internship at Rhode Island Hospital on May 1, she has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity of South County. She says her Habitat experience has empowered her as a woman and prepared her to be a future homeowner.

“I think it’s a lot of fun,” she added. “The homeowners have to put in a certain number of sweat-equity hours so sometimes we’ll meet them while we work or at the home dedication once the house is finished. The families are always so happy and grateful. It’s great to see.”

In July, Mendoza will start a year of service with AmeriCorps’ StreetCred program at Boston Medical Center, an outreach program that connects low-income families with needed services.

“It’s public-health related, which is something I want to explore to see if I’m interested in a master’s in public health,” said Mendoza, who will also work part-time as a medical technologist at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Obviously, working in the lab, you’re helping patients. But I feel my greater purpose may be out in the community helping underserved populations.”

That’s a decision for later. For now, she has unfinished business at URI. This summer, she will serve as an orientation leader.

“I have never applied before but I have friends who did it last year and they had a really great experience,” she said. “I thought this could be a really nice way to say goodbye to URI and welcome in the new students. And I get to spend as much time here as I can before I leave.”