This first-gen student plans to give back in a unique way

woman in a cap and gown on a deck
Dayana Cespedes-Mendoza. Photo provided

For as long as she can remember, Dayana Cespedes-Mendoza has had an interest in architecture.

“Whenever my family would go on drives, I’d look at different houses, buildings and bridges, just to admire them,” she said. “I was always intrigued with how those things were built.”

Add her skills in math and physics, and the incoming freshman at George Mason University said she could not imagine majoring in anything other than civil, environmental and infrastructure engineering.

Especially considering her goal of building houses for her mother and father in their home countries of Peru and Bolivia, respectively.

“If I become a civil engineer or an architect, I can do that,” Cespedes-Mendoza said.

Cespedes-Mendoza has been familiar with Mason for more than five years through her participation in Mason’s Early Identification Program (EIP) for first-generation college-bound students. Her mother urged Cespedes-Mendoza to join the program as an eighth grader at Williamsburg Middle School in Arlington, Virginia.

“Thanks to EIP, I had a smoother process when it came to college applications,” said Cespedes-Mendoza, who is a member of Mason’s Honors College and a University Scholar. “The program has helped me with things that my parents wouldn’t have known, so I’m extremely grateful.”

Keiry Chicas, an academic success coach and senior transition specialist for EIP, praised Cespedes-Mendoza’s hard work and dedication.

“Since the first day I met her, she was always attentive and persistent with her work, which has allowed her to keep moving beyond what is expected,” Chicas said. “I can't wait to see what the future holds for her.”

In high school, Cespedes-Mendoza completed an internship with a house remodeling company in Arlington.

“I got to go onto an actual house site and talk to the workers, and they would teach me what they were doing,” she said. “This opportunity allowed me to have more insight into construction and the environment it holds.”

Her father, who works in construction, also taught her how to fix things around the house while growing up, she said. “I loved to help him out.”

Cespedes-Mendoza said she’s ready to embark on this next stage of her academic journey—and she's sure Mason is the place to do it.

An informal campus tour she took in April, led by an older student who’s also a University Scholar, solidified that decision.

“I remember campus was so lively, everyone was really happy, and there was just a lot of movement going on,” she said.

Another notable benefit, Cespedes-Mendoza said, is the diversity she saw while walking around campus—something she said was missing at her high school.

“Mason looked like a school I wanted to go to,” she said. “I felt like Mason could be home.”

Cespedes-Mendoza said she’s excited to join Mason’s Society of Women Engineers and get involved with any Peruvian or Bolivian-oriented student organizations.

“I know I’ll love it at Mason,” she said.