By Ashley Hughes
Accepting a position as a peer mentor in Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Roadways program put Joy Melgarejo on the path to achieving her dream of earning a degree in psychology.
That dream was planted in the Philippines, where Melgarejo, grew up. When she and her parents immigrated to Colorado, she put it on hold for a 13-year career as a dental assistant.
But her goal will finally be realized in December, when she graduates with a psychology degree from MSU Denver as the fall 2020 President’s Award winner.
“Dental assisting was kind to me and provided me with many rewarding experiences,” Melgarejo said. “I always felt that something was missing; it was time to turn over a new leaf.”
When she first enrolled in the University, she worked and went to school part-time. But with the support of her boyfriend and family, she was able to attend school full-time. That’s when she took on a peer-mentor position with Roadways.
“I actually ended up falling in love with (peer mentoring),” Melgarejo said. “It really helped my University experience, too, because I was exposed to resources that I never knew existed. And it drove me to attend more events and be part of a community.”
Melgarejo “has proven to have a strong work ethic and produces work with integrity” while expanding her leadership capabilities, said Camelia Naranjo, her supervisor in the peer-mentoring office.
During her tenure, Melgarejo transitioned through three roles, ultimately landing as the Lead Career Development Peer Mentor. She also helped develop the University’s Classroom to Career Hub “lunch-and-learn” events that have become staples of peer-mentor programming.
On top of her work in the peer-mentoring office, Melgarejo last spring served as a teaching assistant for a psychology course taught by Courtney Rocheleau, Ph.D. The work solidified her goal of turning her psychology degree into a career in academic advising for higher education.
“She is driven to help students overcome obstacles and reach their potential and achieve their educational goals,” Rocheleau said.
Melgarejo also found time to join the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, intern with the Adams County Probation Department and volunteer with the Rocky Mountain Psychology Association and Project Homeless Connect. To top it all off, she even coached boxing, a sport she picked up as a young adult.
Her proudest academic accomplishment, she said, is graduating with magna cum laude distinction and being named the President’s Award winner.
“My mom asked me the other day, ‘Is this something you ever even dreamed of?’ And my answer was, ‘No, it wasn’t,’” she said. “It was never my dream to have all the accolades. And all this is for someone who was just thinking I want to make a change and pursue something that I’ve been passionate about since I was 13 years old, and just to open more doors for me.”
That door opened to a position at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business as the assistant to the chair for the Management Department. Her new goal is to use the job as a springboard to a career as an academic or career-services advisor.
“I just think I have a lot of things to offer,” Melgarejo said. “My experiences are unique as a nontraditional student, and what I’ve done to set myself up for success is something I’d like to share with students.”
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