St. Thomas Brings a Dream to Life

When high school counselors asked César Osvaldo Mendez-Portillo if he planned to go to college, he said no. “I struggled with English and wasn’t ready to be in college,” said Mendez, who had attended Leap, an alternative high school for new immigrants where the focus was on teaching students English and helping them to merge into American society.

His counselors, however, told him he had many college options, including the Dougherty Family College at the University of St. Thomas. “I visited the school and it was a really nice program and the students and faculty matched the energy of Leap – you feel the community.”

Mendez, who is now a marketing major at St. Thomas, was admitted to several colleges he applied to, but ultimately decided to attend DFC.

“I contrasted the support of the other schools and what I was getting,” he said. “The other schools gave me financial support, but DFC gave me the whole package. I was getting a computer, books, food, a bus pass. At the end of the day, I had to make a choice and the best choice was DFC.”

Mendez excelled at DFC, which is located on the Minneapolis campus of St. Thomas. The cohort model school offers an associate degree designed to propel students toward success and provide a smooth transition to a four-year college.

“The transition to St. Thomas from DFC was different and I was excited about it,” said Mendez, who, upon receiving his associates degree, was awarded a full-tuition scholarship to pursue a bachelor’s degree at St. Thomas. “I was really involved with the St. Paul campus while at DFC. So, I knew people already. I knew the classrooms and the buildings and how to use the resources.

Mendez, who ultimately wants a job post-graduation focusing on the Hispanic market, said he desires “to help corporations understand my community and how they can market their product to us. They are looking for people like me and how we do things.

"At St. Thomas, I was able to see myself reflected in other predecessors. I had my first African American professor in my life at St. Thomas. I know professors that are Latino, ones in CAS and Engineering and the Opus College of Business. I saw so many POCs teaching at St. Thomas and that was important – I saw a reflection in me. That has been amazing. That is one of the things I like about St. Thomas.”

And that’s why César Osvaldo Mendez-Portillo is proud to be a Tommie.