Counselor passes the torch of inspiration

Lesley+Meza%2C+an+academic+counselor+at+El+Camino+College%2C+speaks+with+a+student.+Meza+celebrated+her+fifth+anniversary+as+an+employee+of+ECC+in+January+2019.+Jorian+Palos%2FThe+Union

Lesley Meza, an academic counselor at El Camino College, speaks with a student. Meza celebrated her fifth anniversary as an employee of ECC in January 2019. Jorian Palos/The Union

Growing up as a first-generation college student, she never thought she would be where she is today, traveling the world while working the job of her dreams.

As Lesley Meza went about her college days she realized her true passion was to help students with their career and academic goals.

“My counselor exposed me to all these opportunities and I was just taking advantage of them,” Meza said. “He’s the one who actually inspired me to become a counselor. He played such a key role in my development.”

Meza, who is now a career and transfer counselor at ECC, grew up in South Los Angeles and attended UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), where she double-majored in Spanish and global studies.

While at UCSB, Meza pursued the opportunities her counselor brought to her attention, including studying abroad in Spain for a year and completing an internship in Washington D.C. through the UC Washington Center (UCDC) as an undergraduate.

After graduating with her Master of Science (M.S.) in Counseling at CSU Northridge, she took time off and volunteered for the Peace Corps, which placed her at a shelter home for two years in Ecuador.

After fulfilling her educational goals, Meza applied with the Peace Corps as a result of her enthusiasm for traveling and giving back.

Meza was ultimately assigned to Casa Maria Amor, a shelter that housed women who were victims of domestic abuse. The women were helped with employment opportunities and getting back on their feet.

In Ecuador, Meza adjusted to the culture and lifestyle, including fashion and the local cuisine. Although Meza is from Latin descent, some Ecuadorians believed Americans were supposed to have blue eyes and light skin, so they swell learned something from Meza’s presence.

She got hired part-time as a counselor at ECC right after her time at the Peace Corps and was brought on full-time with the Career and Transfer Center a year later. Meza celebrated her fifth anniversary as an employee at ECC in January.

“When the Career and Transfer Counselor position opened up it kind of fit me like a glove because [it’s] 50% focused on career and the other 50% focused on academics,” Meza said. “Those were the exact areas I wanted to focus on.”

When she first started working at ECC she was always checking in with her co-workers to make sure she had done everything accurately and on time, Transfer Adviser Blanca Prado, who has worked alongside Meza for five years, said.

Dean of Counseling and Student Success Dipte Patel said the most beautiful part about working with Meza is that they are constantly learning from one another.

“She’s a collaborator and people see that and want to help her or are willing to do that themselves too,” Patel said.

After earning her M.S. in counseling, her next step is to complete her goal of achieving a doctorate in Educational Leadership. Meza said that she has now attained her goal of getting a full-time job and it is now time for her to take the next step.

“If you would have asked me two years ago if I were going to get a doctorate I would have said ‘No. I am done with school,'” Meza said. “But there is a point in your life where you want more and that’s never going to stop.”

After traveling to a myriad of countries including Thailand, Cambodia and China and others in Western Europe and South America, it is now time for her next trip.

In April 2019, Meza was due to travel to Malawi, an East African country, to visit one of her former students who was inspired by her to volunteer with the Peace Corps. However, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Meza had to cancel her trip.

“[Meza] has a mindset of the more the merrier,” Prado said. “For example, Lesley has a lot of friends from different phases of her life and she bridges all of them together. We went to an escape room one time with different people and it was Lesley who had brought them together.”

Prado said Meza would sometimes stay in her office for long hours on the weekends, even though she doesn’t get paid for those hours. She does it because she wants to make sure things go smoothly and get things done.

“My life’s purpose is to help others. It’s a very general goal, but I think I really embrace that and it guides my decisions on what I do personally and professionally,” Meza said. “If I feel like I am helping others, then it is a satisfying and fulfilling thing for me to do, and my career allows me to embrace that.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article contained wrong information about Leslie Meza’s work and volunteer history. This article was updated with correct information Tuesday, April 7 at 3:00 p.m.