Trulaske student starts new chapter as MSA president
By Stephen Schmidt
A lot can happen in a few months. Just ask Josiah Mendoza. In early January, Mendoza was serving as the president of the Mizzou College Republicans, having been elected to that role in May 2021. Now, a year later, he is the Missouri Students Association president — with a Democratic vice president.
Furthermore, Mendoza, an incoming junior at the Trulaske College of Business, first met his running mate, Molly Miller, in person during the last week of their “Show Me Mizzou” campaign. That’s because Miller spent the semester in Washington, D.C., as an intern in the office of 5th District U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City.
Mendoza and Miller won the MSA presidential election on March 16. They were sworn in to their new positions on April 5.
Have the last few months seemed like a whirlwind to Mendoza?
“Extraordinarily,” he said.
Mendoza will admit that his new role came as a bit of a surprise to him, albeit a pleasant one. After being introduced to Miller through a mutual friend, Cate McFarland, he decided to step down from his presidency with the Mizzou College Republicans to focus all of his energy — aside from academic pursuits — on the MSA campaign.
“When I found Molly as my VP running mate, I knew in my mind that we could go through the entire process and win,” Mendoza said.
McFarland went to the same high school as Mendoza in Kansas City, Missouri — and was the student body president during their senior year. McFarland and Miller are also in the same sorority, Pi Beta Phi. Furthermore, Mendoza was involved in Greek life as a Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity member.
In mid-January, before the winter break ended, McFarland and Mendoza met for breakfast in Kansas City. That is when Mendoza expressed his interest in running for MSA president, as well as his need for a vice president. Miller’s name immediately came to her mind.
"I thought they would be a perfect pairing because of their similar kindness and generosity towards others,” McFarland said. "At the end of the day, I think that I knew that their personalities, their work ethic and their genuine interest in others was more important than political affiliations.”
At their core, the two candidates, McFarland said, are advocates.
"She knew exactly what I was seeking: someone who was on the same page as me when it came to our desire to leave politics out of the work,” Mendoza said of McFarland.
Mendoza wanted to stay clear of giving the MSA any perception of a partisan identity. So did Miller.
“The minute you start playing the partisan politics game, you alienate yourself from people who aren’t interested in that,” Mendoza said, “which inhibits your relationship-building ability and effectiveness when you're trying to negotiate with people.”
Mendoza and Miller’s campaign platform centered around three main points of emphasis: student safety, student service and student support — with the first holding the spot of the highest priority.
Aside from filling cabinet positions, three of which will be newly created to address those three focal points, Mendoza and his staff have been meeting with the police chiefs from the MUPD (Brian Wiemer) and the Columbia Police Department (Geoff Jones) to determine how to best refresh the interest of the Rave Guardian personal safety mobile app on campus.
Although the app has been used before at Mizzou, its usage has been minimal compared to other counterpart schools, such as the Missouri University of Science and Technology. Mendoza said that he and Miller hope a new communication plan can make the app as popular in Columbia as it is on several other college campuses nationwide.
The new MSA leadership team is also exploring the possibility of getting the current campus phone/email alert system to notify groups of people geographically located in a smaller radius of a specific alert.
‘His second home’
Supplied with a stocked fridge of Dr. Pepper — "I make my love of Dr. Pepper pretty public,” he said — life has been moving even faster for Mendoza since he took office.
Yet, he is able to keep things in perspective through the eyes of his father.
"We're a pretty strong, tight-knit family. A lot of his inspiration arises from my dad's story and my dad's success here. And I know that's fuel to the fire for him,” said Caleb Mendoza, one of Josiah’s three brothers, who is an incoming senior at Trulaske, studying finance.
Luis Mendoza arrived in Kansas City, Missouri, on Dec. 23, 1989, as a 21-year-old political refugee who fled from Nicaragua after the Sandinista regime mandated obligatory military service for males aged 17-26. Kansas City represented the desired landing spot, given that it had a large metro area and was near his brother, who lived in Jefferson City.
"He remembers it very vividly because it was ridiculously cold, and he had never experienced anything like it,” Josiah said.
Fast forward 33 years. During the MSA campaign, Luis Mendoza stopped by Columbia to check on his son. When he walked around the MU campus, he became overwhelmed with emotion seeing his last name on campaign posters, T-shirts, visors and the like. These moments reaffirmed to the elder Mendoza that the American dream he sought more than three decades earlier was indeed alive and well.
“He'd always dreamed of a career of his own in Nicaragua, maybe not in politics, but nonetheless, seeing his name spread all over a college campus here in his second home was something that resonates with me very firmly,” Josiah said of his father, who serves as a Baptist minister at the Iglesia Bautista Palabra Viva in Northeast Kansas City.
Furthermore, like Josiah, the elder Mendoza regularly plays the role of community advocate by allowing other international churches — such as congregations from Myanmar and Sudan — in the area who do not have a physical space to meet on Saturdays or Sundays to meet at his church.
“He will help anyone who's trying to find a church or build a church in the area,” Caleb said.
When he was sworn in to office in April, Josiah became the first MSA president of Latino descent in the 183-year-history of the university.
“It's an enormous privilege to be able to be the first [MSA president] to represent that heritage,” he said.
“The [Mendoza] name has come a long way and will continue to do so,” Caleb Mendoza said. “It came up as an opportunity. He went after it full-fledged, and the rest is history."
The start of something big
The second youngest of four brothers, Josiah first dabbled in politics at North Kansas City High School. That’s where he and Caleb, who is 18 months older, started up a chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom, an organization run by Young America’s Foundation, a large, conservative youth organization.
Although he is not studying to be an accountant, Josiah said that one of his favorite classes was Accounting 1 in the fall 2021 semester, taught by Chris Prestigiacomo, associate teaching professor and Nikolai Teaching Scholar.
At the end of the semester, Josiah stopped by Prestigiacomo’s office to thank him for how he presented his lectures to the class. The two would then talk about community work and other similar interests.
“Josiah is a very thoughtful student and independent thinker,” Prestigiacomo said. “He is mature beyond his years. He gets involved in making the world a better place.”
Josiah said he could one day foresee his political aspirations beyond the MU campus. His first goal is to establish himself in the business world through a marketing job at a large company based out of the Kansas City metro area.
This summer, Josiah Mendoza has been staying in Columbia while working on the initiatives central to his campaign. He has done so equipped with words that his father told him.
“You can’t really focus on what people think of you,” Josiah said. “When you put yourself out there — like I have in the public — there are going to be negative perceptions, positive perceptions, absolutely terrible perceptions and great perceptions. If someone succeeds in provoking you, your mind is complicit in that provocation, so you just have to keep your head held high.”