Rebeca Mena, ’21, has zero doubts about Ball State’s ability to boldly meet whatever challenges lie ahead.
That confidence is the product of her experience as a student representative on the Board of Trustees during a time when the University faced challenges in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic that interrupted normal life across the country.
“You know a leader when you have a moment of crisis,” said Mena. “The University could have chosen two different pathways—either adapt and innovate or shut down.
“The refusal of our trustees, campus leaders, and the entire campus community to take that easier path impressed me so much. Everyone had the same intention: to finish the semester with our heads really high. And the pathway to that goal was innovation, which is one of Ball State’s most remarkable traits.”
This Spring, Mena graduated and concluded her service to the Board. She said her biggest contribution as a trustee was offering her perspectives as a STEM major, research scholar, and Latinx woman—but mostly just as a representative student. To help broaden her perspective, she frequently engaged the insights of fellow students.
Assistant Professor of Chemistry Mary Konkle was among those who urged Mena to apply to become a student trustee. Mena regards her as an important mentor. As a Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation research scholar and peer mentor, Mena performed research in Konkle’s research lab on the function and behavior of MitoNEET protein.
Lab research was not on her radar when she came to Ball State. Mena was born in Virginia but raised in Venezuela. She enrolled in a dentistry college that closed due to the country’s economic crisis. Her parents, both missionaries, urged her to go to Muncie, stay with her godparents, and finish college there.
Her godfather, a senior pastor at a local church, advised Mena to work awhile before attending Ball State in order to get acclimated. As a medical interpreter, she came to appreciate the town of Muncie.
Though it’s still her intention to become a dentist, her ambitions have grown. Seeing her professors’ dedication “has been one of most impactful things for me,” and she now wants to a pursue an advanced degree in combination with dentistry.
“I would love to teach as a professional,” she said, “which is something I never would have thought before at all.” — Tim Obermiller