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Challenging Summer Experience Helps Rutgers Senior Find Calling

Geidy Mendez one of 14 in the nation selected for political science program


In her first three years at Rutgers, Geidy Mendez distinguished herself with an impressive mix of academics and activism.

A double major in political science and Latino and Caribbean studies, with two minors, Mendez found time in her busy schedule to get involved with campus groups such as the Latin American Women Organization, Galvanizing and Organizing Youth Activism, and the First Generation Student Union. As an intern at El Centro Hispanoamericano, she worked on domestic abuse cases for undocumented immigrants.

“I chose my academic fields and my activism with a sense of obligation,” says Mendez, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, who’s currently interning with the reelection campaign of Senator Robert Menendez. “I want to give back to my community.”

This past summer Mendez took on a rigorous new challenge that elevated her skills, strengthened her sense of purpose, and prepared her for a possible career as a scholar.

Mendez was one of 14 students nationwide accepted into the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute, an acclaimed five-week program by the American Political Science Association designed to introduce undergraduate students from under-represented racial and ethnic groups to the world of doctoral study in political science.

“It was intense,” Mendez says. “I’ve always pushed myself at Rutgers, but this was at a new level for me.”

The institute, named for Ralph J. Bunche, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient in 1950 and the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in political science from an American university, is held annually at Duke University from late May to the end of June. Mendez

The students take political theory courses that require extensive reading, frequent essays, and a 20- to 30-page paper. They also take a statistics class, learn the computer language “R,” and meet regularly with teaching assistants to discuss the course content.

“At the end of the day I’d usually take a quick nap and then get to my homework,” Mendez says. “It was demanding, but exhilarating.”

She also met political science scholars, engaged with recruiters from prestigious schools, and got to know students from universities such as NYU, Cornell, and Notre Dame.

“It really helped me see what I am capable of,” Mendez says. “And it made me appreciate what academia has done for me and to realize that this is what I want to do in my life.”

Mendez, of East Orange, is the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants and the first person in her family to attend college. She chose Rutgers because of the myriad academic options and also because it was close to home.

“You find your niche really easy at Rutgers,” she says. 

In addition to her two majors, she is minoring in women’s and gender studies, and comparative and critical race and ethnic studies.

She found out about the Bunche program through Yalidy Matos, a professor of political science and Latino and Caribbean studies, who attended the institute as an undergraduate. She urged Mendez to apply and guided her through the process.

“I grew as a researcher and made lifelong friendships,” Matos says about her own experience at the Bunche Institute. “I want my students to have those experiences that push them forward and help them grow. I am incredibly proud of Geidy.

“Next time, she’ll be the one helping someone else!”

As she enters her senior year, Mendez says she’s feeling confident and comfortable about her path as a scholar.

“I like the work and I like the questions that we ask in academia,” she says. “When you are always able to ask questions, then there is always room for advancing knowledge.”




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