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Hispanic Heritage Month | Joanna “Jo” Mercado ‘19 

Oct 13, 2023 By Queens University Communications

A familiar face on campus, Associate Director for Student Engagement Jo Mercado ‘19 has spent nearly seven years of her life at Queens – first as a student, and now as the associate director for student engagement. You can find her at a podium, speaking words of encouragement and support to first-generation graduates, in the DICE lounge sipping robust Latin American coffee with staff and students, or engaging with the Queens community at social events in the residence quad.  

“I knew as soon as I graduated from Queens that I wanted to work here, to give back to the university that helped shape who I am,” said Mercado. “Queens inspired me to become familiar with my own culture and identity, while exploring and appreciating the different cultures of those around me.” 

Wherever she is, Mercado is being her authentic self and doing what she loves most – working with student clubs and organizations to foster a vibrant and fulfilling student experience on campus. Since joining the staff in 2021, she has been instrumental in creating new culturally diverse programming and events, such as Desayuno. This event, which occurs during Family Weekend, is a Spanish-speaking breakfast with traditional cuisine for Hispanic students and their families. It provides a feeling of unity for people who can sometimes feel alienated because of language barriers. She also started the wildly popular Café con Leche event, a weekly gathering of staff and students that meet in the DICE Lounge to savor coffees from different Latin American countries during Hispanic Heritage Month. 

Throughout her life, Mercado has relied on words of encouragement from her parents. As immigrants, they left Mexico to start fresh in the United States with hopes of a better future for their children.  

“During my studies, my parents often told me how proud they were of me and that I had to keep going, and I did,” she said. “I never stopped striving to succeed because I wanted to show them how much I appreciated what they gave up – their family, their friends, their homeland – just to give me the opportunities they never had themselves.”   

How has Queens changed through the years? 

“There is more diversity on campus now than when I was a student,” said Mercado. “I’ve enjoyed seeing how our DEI initiatives have created a space where people of all cultures and identities can live, learn, and work in a safe and thriving environment.” 

When asked about this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month theme, Mercado paused and focused on the word “progress.” 

“When I think of ‘progress,’” she said, “I just want to shout ‘We’re here! We’re loud and we’re proud!’” said Mercado. “The accomplishments of the Hispanic and Latinx community are recognized, our voices are heard, and we are finally seen.” 

As for advice for future students, she says, “It’s ok to try different things and continue to explore your identity throughout your college experience. Never lose sight of what you are working so hard for, and most importantly, never lose your ‘why.’”