WSU McNair PhD 


Sylvia Mendez, PhD

Professor, University of Colorado Colorado Springs
Ph.D. Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, University of Kansas
M.S., Student Affairs in Higher Education, Colorado State University
B.A., Economics, Washington State University

Dr. Sylvia Mendez is a Professor of Leadership, Research, and Foundations in the College of Education at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She earned her BA in Economics from Washington State University in 2001, MS in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Colorado State University in 2003, and PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of Kansas in 2007. While attending WSU, Sylvia was involved in many areas of student leadership. Her most fond memories are tied to the SHAPING conference, the Asian Pacific American Student Coalition, and Gamma Alpha Omega Sorority Inc. She also served as a Multicultural Student Mentor and participated in the McNair Scholars Program.

As a McNair scholar, Sylvia was afforded invaluable opportunities that shaped her readiness to tackle the rigors of graduate school. The summer research experience with Dr. Fred Inaba not only taught her how to manage a research project from beginning to end but also differentiated her in the competitive graduate school admissions market. Upon beginning her graduate studies, Sylvia felt unsure of the expectations but soon learned that the McNair program prepared her well for this new adventure. One of the most important lessons learned was the importance of seeking out mentors and creating one’s own support system.

To this day, mentorship continues to permeate Sylvia’s work as a faculty member. She is regularly in close contact with mentors from her college days and often invites them to guest lecture in her classes. Thus, Sylvia’s students are now inspired by the very mentors who inspired her. In addition, her mentors regularly share with her students the advice they imparted to her—surround yourself with individuals who encourage you and nurture your talents. Mentorship is central to Sylvia’s research agenda, as her work focuses on creating inclusive higher education policies and practices that advance faculty careers and student success. Currently, she leads the social science research efforts on two National Science Foundation projects with faculty mentorship programs at their core. Also, she has co-constructed mentoring programs for faculty and students at her home institution.

When Sylvia reflects on her time as a McNair scholar, she readily acknowledges the significant role of mentorship in her life. The mentorship she received through the McNair program from Dr. Steve Burkett, Ms. Nancy Schmidt, and Dr. Fred Inaba secured her pathway to the professoriate. When offering advice to those preparing for and earning a graduate degree, she recommends attending a program with faculty who genuinely desire to mentor and have the time and energy to invest in their students’ personal and professional growth. For instance, Sylvia earned her doctoral degree 15 years ago and continues to write with her PhD advisor Dr. John Rury (Professor Emeritus, University of Kansas) and to seek his guidance and support. The mentors she has collected along her educational journey are near and dear to her heart and to her work serving students and the education profession. Sylvia attributes being a professor to the quality mentoring she received at WSU through the McNair Scholars Program.