Owning Greatness, Part 1 – Jennifer Mezquita
Women Leaders of the Merrimack Valley Seek to Innovate and Transform
There are many leaders throughout the Merrimack Valley, including five exceptional women we’ll highlight during the coming weeks. They are leaders in their industries, respected by colleagues and the public, and at the forefront of changing the landscape for women in their fields.
Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs, Northern Essex Community College
Jennifer Mezquita understands the struggles and challenges faced by students at a community college. She has walked in those shoes.
“My love for higher ed began when I was an undergrad at a local community college,” she says. “I’ve seen what it’s done for me and what it can do for others as well.”
A two-year financial scholarship enabled Mezquita to attend Valencia College in Florida, where her work-study job in the admissions office, giving tours of campus, exposed her to the opportunities of a career in education.
After getting her associate degree, Mezquita attended the University of Florida, where she earned a B.A. in food and resource economics. A native of the Dominican Republic who moved to the U.S. when she was 10, Mezquita planned to become an attorney who would focus on helping agricultural workers.
Life, however, showed her another path. After marriage and a child, Mezquita pursued a career in banking — but it never felt like the right fit. She missed the one job that never felt like work: higher education. A friend pointed her in the direction of a master’s degree in educational leadership and told her she could pursue a career in academia. She later earned her doctor of education degree in higher education and policy studies.
After stints at colleges in Florida and California, Mezquita needed to return to her passion — working with students. She saw a post for the job she now holds at Northern Essex Community College.
As a Latina, the demographics of the students and the NECC campuses in Haverhill and Lawrence appealed greatly to Mezquita. She felt she could serve students who were like herself, and help break down obstacles to higher education.
“It felt like they had created the job description with my name on it,” she says.
Mezquita recalls the moment she set foot on the Lawrence campus for her interview, calling it “magical.” She felt the warmth of a community that is rich in culture, passion and advocacy.
“It felt different — it felt like I was home,” she says.
Mezquita started working at NECC in September 2019, setting out to become part of the college while supervising a department of more than 100 people.
Northern Essex has done “a phenomenal job” embracing all voices and making sure that everyone is heard, she says. The priority is the same, according to Mezquita, for all administrators — to determine how the college best serves students and the communities they come from.
“Much of my time and attention has been spent with staff and with students,” Mezquita says. “Students are the reason for my work, they are not an interruption to my work.”
As the college grapples to meet the needs of students during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mezquita says she continues to put people first.
“I have leaned on what comes natural to me,” she says. “I ask questions, listen, show appreciation, and advocate. During this pandemic, we had to reengineer the way we served our students in our remote environment. It has been inspiring to see how our team did not miss a beat at the opportunity to continue to serve our students despite the ever-changing circumstances.”
As for life during the pandemic, Mezquita says, “Now more than ever, it is important to me to focus on the well-being of our staff members. Many are balancing work at home with other competing priorities. Understanding that work is one of their priorities during the day is important. I have learned the importance of remaining flexible and giving others grace while encouraging self-care behaviors. This pandemic has taught me that working from home is truly an art — a difficult balancing act.”
What advice does she have for other women who may want to pursue a leadership role in education?
“Own your greatness,” Mezquita says. “Never apologize for being smart, for being strong, for leading with your heart. All the wonderful things that make us a woman are things to celebrate.”
Mezquita is one of five exceptional women featured in the Sept/Oct 2020 issue of Merrimack Valley Magazine. Click here for more info. >>>
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