"The abundant resources at HCC allowed me to discover strengths I never knew existed."

— Aura Mendez, 2013 HCC Grad, AA Liberal Arts

I had many familial obstacles that could have prevented me from going to college and pursuing my dreams. I ultimately decided not to let any of those get in the way of my education. I chose HCC because it was local, affordable and the small classes were a plus. I also heard that if I qualified, I could go for free with financial aid. The seven years it took me to complete my AA degree was a bumpy road. I experienced the death of a loved one, a high risk pregnancy, motherhood, and a bad car accident, but I never gave up.

To say HCC changed my life drastically is an understatement. Wanting more for myself and my family, I know that by going to college, I broke the cycle of generational poverty that plagued my family. I am not content with living paycheck to paycheck. My family was satisfied with not having enough and making sacrifices on things that you shouldn't have to choose between. I vowed to never put my children in that place and to give them the world, because they didn't ask to be here. I want for them to have everything I never had. I was raised by my mom, I am a first generation college student, and also the first of my mother's three children to go to college and graduate.

The abundant resources at HCC allowed me to discover strengths I never knew existed. Through a program called Trio (a federal program that encourages students to stay in college and achieve their goals) offered at the college, my fellow classmates and I were able to visit other colleges which inspired me to continue my education post HCC. One professor who truly inspired me is Dr. Tonni Y. Bacoat-Jones. She is amazing, nurturing and brilliant in her field. I loved her teaching so much I took four of her classes, and if she taught other classes I would have taken those too!

HCC helped guide me in a career path I had not considered before - working with children. I applied at Pinellas County School Board as a manager intern and with my educational background, thanks to HCC, I was hired. I am currently a Foodservice Manager at an Elementary School in St. Pete.

My journey is only beginning. I am 11 credits shy of completing my Bachelor's Degree in Business Management and Organizational Leadership from St. Pete College, and I am also a wife and the mom to three amazing miracles. The best is yet to come – Thank you HCC!