Melendez brings her passion for addressing education inequality to New Mexico schools

Naticcia Melendez is a senior sociology major with a passion for the impoverished and downtrodden. She will be continuing on to teach secondary social studies in New Mexico through Teach For America.

Caitlyn Starkey: Describe your life growing up.

Naticcia Melendez: I grew up in Lakewood, Wash., which is just an outskirt of Tacoma. I grew up with my dad and brother. It was an interesting dynamic because I was growing up with a single father, and a typical single head of household was a single mother. That has definitely shaped and formed my identity today.

Our [Naticcia and her brother] childhood consisted of going to the Boy’s and Girl’s Club after school. Sometimes we would go to my dad’s work after Boy’s and Girl’s Club was done. I thought it was the coolest thing to sit in the warehouse and drink Coke and watch TV while every little kid I knew was in bed.

I grew up in a pretty impoverished neighborhood. We lived in an apartment complex for the majority of my life, and so most people around me were working a lot in order to maintain basic needs. That has kind of dictated the way I view poverty and the way I view wealth. Also my heart for impoverished neighborhoods, for the lower class, has been shaped because of that.

CS: Then how did you end up at Whitworth?

NM: I ended up at Whitworth through Act 6, which is a leadership initiative that pulls from underrepresented areas. Tacoma is one of the areas and brings the unrepresented population into predominantly white campuses.

The goal of Act 6 is for us as leaders to demonstrate our leadership skills, whether it’s through the classroom, whether it’s through a formal leadership, just being present on campus and fighting for what we believe in — allowing ourselves to grow and allowing others to grow as well. I am only here because of Act 6, its the only way I could attend.

CS: I understand you have gotten to travel. Can you explain more about your experiences?

NM: In my four years here I have been to South Korea, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Ireland.

I have loved and appreciated those traveling experiences. They have taught me a lot about myself, and have taught me so much about westernization of cultures and the impact the United States has had on other countries, whether it be positive or negative.

Even though it was hard to hear those things, like the country that I am from has done a lot of negative things, it’s just really opened my eyes and broadened my perspective and allowed me to see the United States in a different light.

CS: How do you think Whitworth prepared you for Teach For America?

NM: I’m pretty competent in knowing how underprivileged communities function because of the sociology classes I have taken. I am very culturally aware of the differences.

That’s not to say I am an expert by any means. I feel like I have been prepared in a social sense to go out and communicate with people of a different community.

In general, knowing that I have been empowered here, I have been trying to use that and empower others, even here at Whitworth.

I want to extend that out into the school that I will be teaching at. But on the other side of that I don’t feel competent in actually teaching because obviously I am not an education major. I am a sociology major and so I know I will have a lot of work to do, and I am prepared for that. I know that the first year of teaching is going to be extremely difficult, but I am ready to persevere through that.


Story by Caitlyn Starkey Staff Writer

Photographer: Gabrielle Perez


Contact Caitlyn Starkey at