Visionary Puerto Rican Educator Ana G. Mendez
With the future of the world in the hands of our children, quality education is essential in any society. Education was a high priority for Ana G. Mendez, and through her efforts this dedicated educator left a legacy which has set many a student on the path to success. Among the universities founded by Mendez are the University of Turabo in Gurabo, which has branches in Isabela, Ponce, Cayey, Yabucoa, Barceloneta and Naguabo; The Universidad del Este in Carolina, with branches in Cabo Rojo, Santa Isabel, Barceloneta, Yauco and Utuado; and the Metropolitan University in San Juan, with branches in Bayamon, Aguadilla, Jayuya and Cupey.
Born in Aguada on 7 January 1908, to Francisco Monje and Ana Cofresí, Ana G. Mendez had seven siblings and was a direct descendent of legendary pirate Roberto Cofresí on her mother’s side of the family. After graduating from high school in Santurce, Mendez earned her Bachelor’s Degree in education from the University of Puerto Rico. It was at this time that she saw the need for students to have the option of studying for a technical or commercial qualification. So in 1941 she founded the Puerto Rican High School of Commerce, with only nine students and three teachers. After graduating with a Master’s Degree from New York University in 1948, Mendez founded the Puerto Rico Junior College based in Rio Piedras. Starting off with 19 students, the new college became the first educational institution on the island to offer two-year associates degrees.
As a strong advocate for educational opportunities, Mendez established the Ana G. Mendez Foundation, which grants scholarships, and founded an educational television channel, as well as correspondence college classes. From small beginnings, the efforts of this visionary educator can be seen in the Ana G. Mendez University System, with more than 17,000 students, 800 educators and 500 administrative employees.
Upon her death in San Juan on 18 February 1997, the country honored Ana G. Mendez by naming an avenue in Puerto Rico’s capital city after her. The city of Orlando in Florida also acknowledged her significant role in furthering educational opportunities by naming its new university the Ana G. Mendez Metro Orlando University, one of the first universities in the community to teach classes in both English and Spanish.