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First-generation student blazes trail at TU

Stephanie Mandujano personifies the definition of determination. As the first person in her family to attend college, she is blazing the trail for her younger siblings. The Tulsa native recalls a drive to succeed that began at an early age and says she always knew she would continue her education beyond high school. Acceptance letters arrived from The University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, the University of Arkansas and The University of Tulsa. Mandujano’s heart told her that one stood apart from the others.

“TU felt more like home to me,” she said. “I thought I would be just another number at a state school.” TU’s energy programs also solidified Mandujano’s decision. As someone who enjoyed her high school science and math classes, she thought majoring in petroleum engineering would fit her career aspirations.  But after sustaining serious injuries as a result of a car accident, she had to significantly scale back her course load to accommodate months of physical therapy as part of her recovery. Mandujano didn’t let the setback deter her plans, though. “I wanted to continue my education, and I wasn’t going to let a car accident stop me,” she said.

Instead, she reevaluated her future career path and switched to a major in finance with a minor in energy. “The numbers appealed to me, and it’s something familiar,” she said. She’s focused on the upstream track in the energy business minor and is even contemplating adding it as a major. “I enjoy learning about title work and mineral rights and could see myself doing that when I graduate,” she said.

This summer, Mandujano had the opportunity to intern with the City of Tulsa in Mayor G.T. Bynum’s office. “I thought it would be a good experience and a chance to contribute to the Tulsa community,” she explained. She worked closely with Brandon Oldham, who is the mayor’s aide and Christina Mendoza, who oversees community development and policy, on projects that included a program to welcome immigrants to Tulsa and an internship for Spanish bilingual-speakers who want to learn more about the city’s government. She also attended city council meetings, which gave her insight into how a local government operates.

“I definitely got to do hands-on work, and I feel like I left my mark on the Mayor’s office,” she said, adding, “The networking experience was amazing. That’s a big thing in business. You need to be able to meet people and talk to them.”

Mandujano’s involvement in campus activities includes the Society of Professional Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Tulsa Energy Management Student Association (TEMSA).

Now in her junior year at TU, Mandujano lights up with excitement when talking about what her future holds. “It’s a good feeling to be a first-generation college student. It means a lot to me to set an example for my brother and sister and show them they can do whatever they want. I’m not only making my parents proud, but also the rest of my family.” She also shares this advice for anyone who might be hesitant to pursue their dreams: “I encourage people to remain in school — educate yourself. Don’t set your expectations low, because you never know if you don’t try.”