Arizona Students Learn About Themselves at Loras

A growing group of high school seniors has traveled more than 1,300 miles annually from their homes in Arizona to visit Loras College. Those who chose to attend Loras have done more than overcome distance, homesickness and first snowfall experiences.

Mike (’62) and Janet Valder at their home at an alumni event in the spring of 2019.

“What’s really exciting is seeing the students getting engaged, learning who they are and what their purpose is in life. That’s real transformation. Loras can help them do that,” said Mike Valder (’62), an attorney in Phoenix and a member of the Loras College Board of Regents. For the past decade, he and his wife Janet have helped pay the travel expenses for high school seniors in the Phoenix area who have been accepted to Loras and might not have otherwise been able to visit the campus.

“If prospective students identify Loras as one of their top two or three choices and they’re serious about it,” he said. “We say, ‘You’ve got to see Loras.’ That’s key to the whole thing – just getting them there and seeing Loras.”

Of the 10 Arizona students the Valders helped to visit Loras in 2019, four just finished their first year as Duhawks in the Class of 2023: Andrew Martinez of Laveen, Deborah Mendoza of Glendale and Estefania Leon and Jonathan Mendivil, both of Phoenix.

“It would have been really hard to come here to visit without them,” Leon said of the Valders.

“At first I thought I would go to Northern Arizona University or the University of Arizona and then I started looking at Arizona State University,” she said. “Those schools were too big for me. And then I went to a college fair and learned about Loras and I was like, ‘Oh, this could be interesting.’”

Since enrolling, Leon, who was born in Mexico, has declared majors in neuroscience and political science. Her goal is to attend medical school and become a pediatric neurosurgeon. When she isn’t studying, she is involved in a number of activities both on and off campus. In the months leading up to the Iowa Caucuses, she volunteered with one of the presidential campaigns.

Jonathan Mendivil (’23) at an alumni event at the Valder home in the spring of 2019.

Mendivil, who was born in Mexico, grew up mostly in Louisiana before moving to Phoenix to finish high school. His first choice for college was Louisiana State University followed by the state universities in Arizona. He soon learned he would be unable to afford tuition at those

“During my senior year fall break, I was admitted into a scholarship program that introduced me to many different opportunities and options,” he said. “I learned that private schools, like Loras, would be a better fit for me.”

As part of the scholarship program, Mendivil attended a college fair in Phoenix where he met Robbie Stran (’02), Loras associate director of admissions, and Sylma Wingard, a senior admission representative. “I just felt a connection with them,” he said. “It really brought me into being part of the Loras community.”

That community has been a good fit for Mendivil, who is majoring in kinesiology and media studies. “I went to a small high school my junior and senior year, so I’m more comfortable at a smaller college than a big university,” he said.

For Leon, adapting to life in a new place far from home has been challenging, but she agrees with Mendivil about the feeling of family and community at Loras. “The best thing about Loras is the engagement that you’re able to have with the professors and the amount of attention you get in the classrooms,” she said. “You don’t really get that at really big schools and I am grateful for the one-on-one communication with professors that I am able to get at Loras.”