Growing up in Northern California, Yuliana Mendez watched many of her peers drop out of school and start a downward trajectory. During her high school years, there were 15 gang-related deaths or injuries in and around her town of Live Oak. A boy who sat next to her in art class is serving 15 years to life in prison for killing another teen.
“Where I grew up, the people you start kindergarten with are the same ones you graduate with,” said Mendez, who will receive her MBA from the USC Marshall School of Business. “I participated in Upward Bound and had a migrant education counselor. My classmates who weren’t part of those programs made a series of bad decisions, and they were led down a path that ended in prison.”
One of five children of migrant farm workers from Mexico, Mendez left Live Oak for Sacramento, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in philosophy and worked for eight years in the California legislature. Mendez worked on landmark legislation including the California Dream Act, which allows undocumented students enrolled in California colleges, universities and career education to apply for state financial aid and scholarships.
Business for the betterment of others
Mendez was accepted into the USC Marshall MBA Society and Business Fellowship as part of a cohort dedicated to solving wicked problems, which include poverty, food security, cancer and social justice.
Yuli is opening her own company that leverages her cultural background to allow for employment and income opportunities for underserved communities.
“She’s active in supporting her classmates and brings a great energy and honesty to everything we do,” said Adlai Wertman, founding director of the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab. “Yuli is opening her own company that leverages her cultural background to allow for employment and income opportunities for underserved communities.”
The company is Bilingüe, which creates clothing and apparel that incorporates iconic Latin American designs. The Bilingüe Entrepreneurs and Leadership Program will teach young students about entrepreneurship through fashion.
“They’ll come in and work with a team to develop a product they can sell in the marketplace,” Mendez said. “We want to engage them in a tangible way. Clothing is something they can connect with.”
Mendez is determined to help create more prosperous communities by encouraging young people to follow a path to higher education.
“It goes back to the programs that helped me, using the most impactful components and formulating a program that steers kids away from decisions that lead to prison. I want to shift their decision-making so they end up in places like USC.”