If Melinda Velasquez could give non-traditional college students one piece of advice, it would be simple. “It’s never too late to answer the call, to do what you are supposed to do.”
She’s living proof. Velasquez (BSED ’08) had been working in San Diego for 10 years as an architect when the company dissolved. She and her son moved back to her native Kansas to reevaluate life and determine what the next step would be. After finding work as a substitute teacher and getting positive reviews from teachers and students, she enrolled at Pittsburg State to earn an education degree in English and Spanish.
Although the college grad loved her new job as an English and Spanish teacher, she still ruminated on a dream that had been quietly calling her for years: moving overseas to help citizens of impoverished countries improve their literacy skills. While exploring a National Missionary Convention a few years ago, she met representatives from Pioneer Bible Translators in Dallas, Texas, and spoke with them about joining their organization. Soon, she signed on to work as a literacy specialist in war-torn North Africa.
“I love learning about other cultures and have always had a way with languages,” said Velasquez, who is conversant in several. “I think I had been avoiding what I knew I was supposed to do for awhile. But things all dovetailed into it being the right timing for me. Now I’m in my 40s and will finally be doing what I plan to be doing the rest of my life.”
This summer, just before her first grandchild was born, Velasquez traveled to North Africa on a “vision trip” where she met her teammates with the organization, got familiar with her future home, and watched as the newest country in Africa seceded from the north. Seeing the people and the land left her no doubt about her decision.
“This area has been in a civil war for 50 years, and because of that their literacy is the second worst in the world. No one has had time to worry about how to read,” said Velasquez, who will mainly work with adults teaching them how to read their own language. “I have a smidge of nervousness, of course. But I’m very excited and ready to be there.”
Soon, Velasquez will relocate to Dallas, where she will finish her training before moving to Africa this summer. As she visited PSU in January, she reminisced about her experience with the education and modern languages faculty, as well as her time as a student employee in the International Programs office. Her life since returning to college has been full of brace choices. But they’ve given her a sense of peace like never before.
“I would tell students, ‘Don’t keep yourself in a bubble while you’re here,’” she said. “Walk through the art gallery, attend cultural events, get to know someone from another country. It’s a good first step to becoming a global citizen, because the world is right here on this campus.”