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Interview with Isaiah Mendieta '19
During Fall 2022, we had the chance to speak with Midland graduate Isaiah Mendieta, currently studying at UC Berkeley. Read on to hear about his academic journey and how experiential learning is still a big part of his life.
Isaiah, so lovely to meet you. First of all, give us a brief introduction. How did you end up at Midland School?
When I was 12, at the middle school I attended there was a program called A Better Chance. I didn’t tell my parents that I had applied or interviewed for boarding school, but I got in. Then I told my parents that I had gotten into the program. My mom wasn’t too happy about that originally, and wasn’t too happy about me applying to boarding schools on my own.
My counselor who I worked with had coincidentally been my mom’s high school counselor too. I went through the program and applied to a handful of schools. Midland was one of the top on the radar. My parents had visited a handful of schools and still weren’t excited, but when they went to Midland, they had a big sigh of relief. My dad was happy to go and hike around the property and he loved it immediately. He always brings up this memory of seeing some kids run out of Stillman with a bowl of fruit!
You are currently studying Society and Environment at UC Berkeley, but you didn’t go straight there after graduating from Midland. Tell us about your experience at Orange Coast College, and what was it like to transfer after earning a two-year Liberal Arts degree?
After graduating from Midland, it made more sense to go to a community college for financial reasons. I got into my top colleges from Midland but we made this choice. I will say the courses at OCC felt a bit too easy after Midland. I then applied to the UCs, and I got into College of the Atlantic in Maine, which was my top choice, but UC Berkeley was about half the price.
Coming in as a transfer student was a bit tricky, but I was able to connect w/ other Midlanders. I actually stayed with Colin Waver, class of 2009. Transferring was difficult but was also freeing. A lot of people had formed cliques, but I went in and met people through the outdoors, forestry, and rock climbing. You start meeting new people and getting into these really fun social groups.
During your time at Midland, you served the freshman upper yard prefect. What did you learn about leadership from taking on this role? Have you used any of these skills in college or university?
I actually have! When I was a prefect, it was a tough love situation. You are with your peers and it’s hard to tell your peers that they can and can’t do things. You might not be on the same level, responsibility-wise, but you are all students.
I applied for a couple of jobs at local middle schools. You have to apply the same principles. You have to be commanding and firm and not too strict at the same time. It involves a lot of managerial skills. This experience has really applied to my newest job which is in restorative justice. I just joined Restorative Justice here at Berkeley. We are starting conflict management circles. We will be going out to different fraternities and sororities to facilitate a place where people can talk things out. We pretty much did that at Midland. We had to create that space where they would be able to work through the issues. A prefect’s goal was to stop students going to student council, and to prevent that kind of behavior that would have them going on the wrong path.
Why did you choose to study Society and Environment? What makes you passionate about your major?
I chose it for two reasons. Firstly, the field I can enter is HUGE. I can go into policy, environmental science, energy, and sustainability. You have a really broad swath of things that you can choose. As a person who can’t decide exactly what I want to do later in life, it opens up a lot of possibilities. I chose it for that reason and also you have access to almost every sub-college within UC Berkeley. I’ve taken courses within lots of subject areas like sociology, political science and others. I’m finding my groove in terms of focusing on sustainability and energy. I’m taking something called Sonic Geographies of Oakland. We actually don’t meet at UC Berkeley, we meet at Lake Merit in Oakland. We go out around Oakland, around the lake and record various sounds. We do sound mapping. We’ve learned how to be sort of invisible in a public crowd and how to use state of the art recording equipment and Audition software. You can capture a diverse range of sound; it’s so fascinating.
I would imagine this major really integrates the Midland core competency of connection place and environment. Can you give an example of how you continue to explore those place-based connections?
Yeah actually place-based connection. Have you heard of the People’s Park situation in Berkeley? It’s historically been owned by UC Berkeley, but it’s been lived in by many locals and used by many locals. There are community gardens, housing for the homeless, and space for people to hang out. Recently, the university has decided they want to build and develop on that plot of land.
Most of my courses that aren’t STEM related, we often focus on People’s Park as a case study because it’s so relevant to the area. The issues around colonialism, capitalism, the influence of Berkeley and it as a symbol of bureaucracy and large systems. We often use that narrative as part of our classes. They are symbolic of one another. It’s been an interdisciplinary topic that is studied throughout so many different subjects. We have looked at it historically. We don’t want the history of the conflict to repeat itself. Most solutions are short term. You need to remember that the space has value.
Since you’re a senior this year, what are you looking forward to post-graduation? What type of experience are you looking to have after earning your Bachelor’s degree?
I’m really excited to be free from institutions of education for just a bit! I’m excited to take a pause in my education and not go immediately into graduate school. I’m excited to go and explore what my major has to offer and what there is out in the world. The last time I was able to go and explore freely was pre-Covid. It will be amazing to explore and look at the world through the lenses of Berkeley and Midland and all these experiences that led up to it. I’m hoping to go back home and get connected with people and family that I haven’t been able to. I’d love to intern at a museum or local nonprofits. I’m excited to go outdoors. In UC Berkeley, you are constantly in this urban zone. I’m excited to get back outside and go backpacking. I also want to dive right into my field, and utilize what I’ve learned.
As a young alum, do you have any words of wisdom for Midland students as they look to the future?
In general, you should be open to the process of what’s about to happen. What I mean by that is you Midlanders have a plan, or don’t, and most plan to go to a 4-year or community college. Things won’t always go as planned. I can almost guarantee that they won’t. You should allow yourself to be open to this change. In doing so, you will be more graceful than those who resist.
I often refer to my community college experience. I was not hoping to go to community college right after Midland. I thought I was ready for the four-year college experience. When I went to the community college, it felt like I wasn’t being challenged enough academically, but there was a whole new world of challenges when COVID hit. I got to see how versatile Midland has made me. It turned out that I can be adaptable even if I fail. My advice is to embrace the journey and be open to change.
When you’re at Midland, I’m sure you notice that everyone knows everyone. It’s weird being a Midlander and going into the big world and knowing nobody. It was easier to connect with people, you get familiar with how to talk to people, what people like, how they react. When the pandemic started, I was able to hunker down with my group that I had established. Being able to connect with people on an intimate or personal level was really important. When you hear that Midland is about teaching community, it’s true, and it’s very enabling.
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