‘We’re a better place because of the time she invested in Iowa State’: Liz Mendez-Shannon takes position at Denver consulting firm


Gillian Holte/Iowa State Daily

Dr. Liz Mendez-Shannon is the Diversity and Inclusion Project Director in Hispanic/Latinx Affairs at Iowa State.

Mike Brown

After two years in her inaugural position as project director in Hispanic/Latinx affairs in the Office of the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, Liz Mendez-Shannon will be saying goodbye to Iowa State to take a position at a consulting firm in Denver.

Taking a newly created position in an office that had not previously existed, Reginald Stewart, the vice president in the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, said that Mendez-Shannon was instrumental in laying groundwork and building community through her position.

“It’s extremely important to be able to have people who are motivated, driven, passionate and engaged in the work to come in and really chart uncharted territory,” Stewart said. “We’re a better place because of the time she invested in Iowa State.”

Stewart said he believes the job of any new position is to lay a strong ground work, and he said Mendez-Shannon has laid a solid foundation for the advancement of Latinx affairs at Iowa State.

Mendez-Shannon said being able to apply her own identity as a Latina to her work was something she greatly appreciated about her role at Iowa State.

“Being a Latina myself, I felt I was able to utilize who I was with my job, when can you say that? That’s so amazing, and I think it’s a big plus,” Mendez-Shannon said.

Vanessa Espinoza, a graduate student in the school of education and graduate intern in Latinx affairs, said Mendez-Shannon helped her grow and develop as more than just a professional during their time working together.

“Dr. Liz has helped me develop holistically, not only professionally, but even as a Latina woman,” Espinoza said. “Representation matters and I have been very fortunate to have a mentor that has the same identities as me.”

Authentic leadership was always a priority approach to her position at Iowa State, Mendez-Shannon said. She said she always approached her projects at Iowa State with the mindset of taking on different circumstances collectively as a team, describing her leadership style as collaborative.

“I think as a leader who is a Latina on campus, with a background in social work, I feel that my work here was, yes, to lay the groundwork for Latinx affairs on campus to be more visible, but also to build community,” Mendez-Shannon said. “Not just in within the community of Latinx individuals, but across cultures, ethnicities, gender expressions, just keep going. That’s been my passion here.”

The teams that focused on aspects of Mendez-Shannon’s leadership style, Espinoza said, are a reflection of the community-based aspects of Latinx cultures that Mendez-Shannon’s work reflected.

Reflection in addition to action was also an important part of Mendez-Shannon’s leadership and mentoring style, Espinoza said.

Mendez-Shannon took a leadership and advising role alongside the Latinx Student Leader Council, who introduced the first scholarship for DACA students at Iowa State. The scholarship was funded by a 5k run, walk and roll and donations from “DACA Dinners”.

The Latinx Student Leader Council was founded under Mendez-Shannon, something which Berenice Real-Ibarra, a graduate student in the school of education, said was unifying to Iowa State’s Latinx student community.

“She invited Latinx student leaders from different organizations and staff and faculty from different areas to brainstorm different ways to serve the Latinx community better,” Real-Ibarra said.

By “lifting as [she] climbs” and empowering those around her, Espinoza says that this is how she hopes to further the lessons she has learned from Mendez-Shannon, and carry on Mendez-Shannon’s beliefs in the long term, as Espinoza said she believes Mendez-Shannon exemplifies the “lift as you climb” motto.

Espinoza said Mendez-Shannon exemplified this motto by always getting credit, always giving credit to those around her and encouraging students in the Latinx Student Leadership Council to speak when they accept their award for organizing the DACA 5k.

As someone who was a student at Iowa State before Mendez-Shannon began her work on campus, Real-Ibarra said she was excited to see representation within the administration, and a specific position that was concerned with the Latinx community on campus.

Mendez-Shannon intentionally asked Real-Ibarra about her experience as an undergrad at Iowa State so they could talk about what was good and what was lacking at the university.

“I really appreciate [Mendez-Shannon] being very student-focused, with her trying to create these opportunities for students in general, and with her taking into account what students would appreciate and need,” Real-Ibarra said.

Real-Ibarra said Mendez-Shannon took the time to get to know her and check up on her and helped her feel empowered and validated as a Latina.

“I remember always leaving her office more refreshed, and feeling better about what’s going on and ready to tackle the next task,” Real-Ibarra said.

Real-Ibarra also said that Mendez-Shannon does a great deal to strengthen the community that may not always initially be seen.

“She does so many things, not only for Iowa State, but for the Ames community, to help the Latinx folks here,” Real-Ibarra said. “She does a lot of the behind the scenes work, which isn’t something we see all the time.”

Relationship building and outreach were other aspects of Mendez-Shannon’s work that Real-Ibarra said stood out. Real-Ibarra recalls Mendez-Shannon always having different faculty and administrative connections all over campus.

Themes of community and conversation were also present in Mendez-Shannon’s revamped Campus Conversations, in which she collaborated with different colleges and organizations across the Ames community to come together and discuss current events and how they relate to campus climate at Iowa State.

“I designed [Campus Conversations] where we could all meet across the campus, different people who are faculty, staff or students, we can all come together and talk about a big topic, but we can also walk away knowing we gave our opinion, we thought about this policy, and we invited this feedback,” Mendez-Shannon said.

Other community-based events included the Know Your Rights discussions, where Mendez-Shannon brought in different leaders and experts from the Ames, Iowa State, and even statewide community to help members of the Iowa State Latinx community learn more about important issues that may be facing them or others in their community.

“For me, information is power,” Mendez-Shannon said.

Know Your Rights discussions spanned multiple different topics, including information regarding the Trump administration’s rescinding of DACA and termination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Much of Mendez-Shannon’s legacy will continue on in her exit, in the form of developing programs she was involved in in the time leading up to her departure, as well as the continuation of already established events, such as the scholarship for DACA students and 5k for DACA, which is being planned by the Latinx Student Leader Council for Spring 2019.

Espinoza said Mendez-Shannon helped her with other professional aspects of her career, such as elevator speeches, but that helping her develop holistically was always Mendez-Shannon’s priority.

“Part of the relationship that Dr. Liz and I have had crosses borders, for the first time I don’t have to give background on a cultural belief or custom and how that may influence the work that I do, she gets it,” Espinoza said. “Dr. Liz has always taught me that I can be myself, I can be a professional and a Latina at the same time.”

Espinoza said she was able to switch between speaking English and Spanish when speaking to Mendez-Shannon, and she always felt she was able to be herself around Mendez-Shannon.

When Espinoza accepted her nomination into the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame, Mendez-Shannon was there, taking the time to appreciate the work Espinoza had done, something which Espinoza said spoke to her dedication as a mentor and leader.

“She went to my awards ceremony, it was a Saturday, she didn’t have to be there, but she wanted to support me on one of the most important days of my life,” Espinoza said, “She shows up.”

Mendez-Shannon said that she has taken a position on a consulting firm in Denver, and that those who wish to say goodbye can visit 2680 Beardshear Hall between 2 and 3:30 p.m. on Friday, November 16.

“When you build trust and relationships it’s hard to let go sometimes and I think that what I want to say to that is, this world is big, and those that feel really connected to me now have a place to stay in Colorado, because our family travels,” Mendez-Shannon said.

Espinoza said she believes Mendez-Shannon and her work have left Iowa State in a better place.

“Iowa State was very fortunate to have Dr. Liz, and I am beyond honored that I was able to know her, to work with her and to call her a mentor,” Espinoza said, “Whoever fills in Dr. Liz’s position has some big shoes to fill.”