Alumna Receives Shinae Chun Prize to Pursue Master’s in Higher Ed

Alumna Receives Shinae Chun Prize to Pursue Master’s in Higher Ed

headshot of rocio-Mendez-rozoRocio Mendez-Rozo plans to use her MSHE degree to continue advocating for underserved populations. Northwestern University alumna Rocio Mendez-Rozo was awarded the $20,000 Shinae Chun Scholarship to begin her studies in the School of Education and Social Policy’s Master of Science in Higher Education Administration and Policy Program. 

Mendez-Rozo, one of three student speakers during Northwestern’s 2017 Commencement ceremony, had a distinguished undergraduate career as a student leader and activist, scholar, and community builder. Mendez-Rozo’s academic experience as a Mellon Mays Fellow, conducting a senior honors thesis, and assisting faculty with their research was punctuated by her volunteer work both on and on campus. 

Mendez-Rozo chose Northwestern over Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, and the University of Michigan.

“The program immediately felt like community, and I really wanted that, along with a one-year master’s program,” she said. “As a career switcher, I wanted to make sure the dean, advisors, faculty, and staff were invested in me as a student. And it felt like they were really going to cheer me on throughout the process.”

Professionally, Mendez-Rozo has worked as a content production lead for an SEO agency, a bilingual copywriter, and an operations coordinator for a non-profit that procured medical supplies for communities in Bolivia and Paraguay. 

She also volunteered as a child advocate for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, where she met weekly with children, some who had been frequently moved between detention centers. Mendez-Rozo worked with one child at a time, meeting virtually due to the COVID-19 epidemic.

“In those first few weeks, I was met with long silences and stares,” Mendez-Rozo said. “But they would gradually open up and began to transform. As a child advocate, my sole responsibility was to make the children feel seen, heard, and empowered. It required accepting that I didn’t have all the answers even when they wanted them, all while making them feel safe and understood.”

Mendez-Rozo, whose mother immigrated from Colombia and whose father is Puerto Rican, arrived at Northwestern as a first-generation, low-income student. Her mother worked as an elementary school clerk for Chicago Public Schools and  was "a relentless investigator and advocate for her children," Mendez-Rozo said. "My parents were invested in trying to give me the best education possible,” she added.

For her internship–a critical piece of the MSHE program–Mendez-Rozo will work with Student Enrichment Services on programs for low-income students, including the Compass program, a year-long peer-mentorship initiative that connects incoming first-generation, lower-income, and/or undocumented students with mentors.

During her second internship, she’ll be working on strategy and policy in the provost’s office. “That opportunity is a big deal for someone like me who would see themselves working in policy someday,” she said.

Mendez-Rozo plans to use her MSHE degree to continue advocating for underserved populations, particularly women of color, who comprise some of the most vulnerable populations on college campuses.

“As someone who is passionate about equity and inclusion, I believe the program will give me the tools I need to understand these inequities and what it takes to advocate for policy changes on a local and national level,” she said. “I also hope the skills I gain will translate to areas outside of my professional work and help me serve more young women for years to come.”

The Shinae Chun Prize honors the late Shinae Chun (MA71), who shaped policy in leadership roles in state and federal government. She served as director of the Women's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor from 2001 to 2009, where she led the only Federal agency charged with advocating on behalf of women in the workforce.

Prior to her role at the Women’s Bureau, Chun headed the Illinois Department of Labor and Illinois Department of Financial Institution-the state’s first-ever Asian American cabinet member– and was the first to serve as special assistant to the governor for Asian American affairs. 

In 2005, the School of Education and Social Policy honored Chun with the Alumni Merit Award, which honors high achievements in a profession or field of endeavor. She addressed graduates during the School of Education and Social Policy 2006 Convocation ceremony.

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 9/10/21