Melendez ‘83 was raised by a German-speaking mother and Spanish-speaking
father in Five Towns, Long Island, N.Y. She didn’t speak a word of English
until the age of 7.
my first day of school, my mother said I came home and refused to speak any
more German,” she says. “And from that day on, English would be the language
in our home.”
Melendez, however, never let go of her German and Puerto Rican roots. During
her undergraduate years at Wesleyan, she majored in Spanish and minored in
German. And to this day, the director of Graduate Student Services (GSS)
uses her multicultural background and language skills to aid current
Wesleyan graduate students.
graduate students can feel comfortable with me, especially the international
students, because I can relate to what they’re going through,” she says.
15 graduate students received their undergraduate degree from Wesleyan.
About half of Wesleyan 200 graduate students come from nations other than
The United States.
Melendez became the director of GSS. Prior to that, she worked as a director
of a job training program for welfare clients in New Britain, taught Spanish
and history in Madison, Conn., and worked as a coordinator for the Community
Action of Greater Middletown. During her college years at Wesleyan, Melendez
supervised tutors and worked at the Adult Learning Center.
work also is a vital part of Melendez’s job here at Wesleyan. But her
foremost role is serving as the primary advocate for graduate students, most
of whom are pursuing master’s and Ph.D degrees in the sciences or music.
much of my work is to bring the Graduate Studies Program to the front of
people’s minds,” she says. “They’re not a large group, but they’re here, and
my job is to remind the Wesleyan community of their presence, and to improve
the life and services for the students.”
Melendez works with other offices on campus makes sure the students have
comfortable housing, are offered transportation if necessary, register for
classes correctly and feel safe.
Latorya Hicks, a graduate student studying chemistry, says Melendez eased
her transition from Lane College in Jackson, Tenn. to Wesleyan. At first,
Hicks went to the director for questions pertaining to the bureaucracy of
graduate school. This relationship has since flourished into a friendship.
“Marina has truly been a great asset and was there to lend a listening ear
when ever I needed to talk about the many trials of graduate school,” Hicks
says. “I am eternally grateful to have met someone so dedicated, genuine,
and concerned when it comes to the well-being of her graduate students.”
the September 11 terrorist attacks, Melendez has devoted more of her time
towards immigration procedures. She insures that students arrive with all
their necessary documents and visas.
have to keep their transition as smooth as possible so they can come here,
settle in, and then focus on their career here,” she says. “These are
students who want to be here. They are mature and are very appreciative
about the education they are about to receive.”
Melendez says students are attracted to Wesleyan’s graduate program for its
one-on-one access to faculty, small departments and nationally-recognized
you want to get master’s or Ph.D in something general, there are several
larger universities they can go to. But if you want to do specific research,
this is where you want to be,” she says.
Melendez networks with Wesleyan’s staff and faculty to improve student
services. She’s served on the Honor Code Task Force, Student Life Committee,
Student of Color Perspectives and Action Committee (SOCPAC), the Executive
Committee for the Administrators and Faculty of Color (AFCA) and Graduate
Dozier, associate director of Affirmative Action co-chaired AFCA with
Melendez for several years.
“Marina is so wonderful to work with,” Dozier says. “ She is smart, funny,
and cares so much about all students at Wesleyan, not just the grad students
or students of color. The grad students are indeed lucky to have her looking
out for them. Her efforts on behalf of all students are tireless.”
Although the individual departments oversee applications and admit the
graduate students, Melendez and her assistant, Barbara Schukoske act as the
registrar for these students. They also update student portfolios, make sure
grades are posted, answer any questions students might have, either through
e-mail, phone or in-person, and monitor a graduate student e-mail list serve
and assist them through commencement procedures.
addition, Melendez started and annually spearheads a graduate student
orientation day in fall “to get all practical matters out of the way,” she
says. “We want to acclimate students as quickly as possible.”
Michael Whaley, dean of Student Services, says he often collaborates with
Melendez to better understand the needs and issues of students of color, and
improve the campus community for all students. They discuss graduate and
undergraduate issues alike.
appreciate her collaborative spirit and respect the passion and dedication
she brings to working with the graduate student population,” Whaley says.
“Her love for Wesleyan and commitment to making this a better community for
the students extend beyond her own specific duties and responsibilities. I
value her opinions.”
Melendez monitors the success of her department by the number of inquiring
the fall, students are still confused and they come in with all sorts of
questions and problems,” she says. “By spring, we don’t see them too much,
and that tells us that we’ve done a good job. That means they’ve adjusted.”
Melendez has continued her own education as well. She earned a MALS degree
from Wesleyan in 1988, and is currently pursuing her Ph.D in educational
studies at the University of Connecticut
Melendez met her partner, Joseph Virgadula ‘80 at Wesleyan. The couple has
two boys, Louis, 15, and Tomas, 13, and live in Middlefield. When she’s not
attending their baseball, soccer and Lacrosse games, mother Marina is busy
cooking or gardening.
busy lifestyle has taught Melendez a life-lesson that she would like to pass
ever do end up teaching, it will have to be a class on time management. I’ve
gotten very good at it,” she says, smiling.