Educator and businesswoman. She founded the first institution of higher education on the island to offer two-year career training courses, based on the idea that all Puerto Ricans should have access to higher education. As the institution grew, it incorporated college campuses that offered bachelor’s degrees, while maintaining the goal of being accessible to low-income students.
The daughter of Francisco González Monge of Mayagüez and Ana Cofresí of Cabo Rojo, she was born in Aguada on January 17, 1908. She was the fourth of eight children. When she was 12 years old, her family moved to El Mosquito sector of the Barrio Obrero neighborhood in Santurce, with the hope of improving their economic situation. At age 15, she married José Méndez Rivera and they had three children: Dora, Grecia and José Méndez.
She graduated from high school at age 27, taking night classes at the Santurce Central High School. She continued her education at the University of Puerto Rico, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Business Education in 1940.
The following year, she got a loan of $1,000 from her husband to found an educational institution specializing in business for low-income students. Along with her former professors, Alfredo Muñiz Souffront and Florencio Pagán, she created the Puerto Rico High School of Commerce (PRHSC). To spread the word, she went door to door to recruit students. Still, the school opened its doors in Río Piedras with just nine students.
She moved to New York and earned a master’s degree at New York University in 1948. When she returned to Puerto Rico, she and her partners took on the task of transforming the Puerto Rico High School of Commerce into the Puerto Rico Junior Collage (PRJC), the first institution of higher education in Puerto Rico to offer associate degrees. A year later, the institution was incorporated as a non-profit organization whose objective was to prepare young, low-income Puerto Ricans for technical and administrative careers. The first chairman of the board of directors was Jesús T. Piñero, who had been governor of the island from 1946 to 1948. Later, in 1952, Ana G. Méndez became chairwoman of the board.
Two additional campuses were founded, the Metropolitan University College in Cupey (1966) and the Turabo University College in Gurabo (1967). The three campuses incorporated as the Puerto Rico Junior College Educational Foundation in 1969. In 1972, she decided, along with the board of directors, to change the focus of the Gurabo campus and convert it into a university, which was called Turabo University. Also that year, the organization changed its name to the Ana G. Méndez Educational Foundation.
In 1974, Ana G. Méndez retired, but she remained an adviser to the Foundation’s board of directors. Her son, José F. Méndez, assumed the presidency of the organization. The institution changed its name to the Ana G. Méndez University System, as the campuses became autonomous universities: Turabo University, Metropolitan University and Eastern University.
Ana G. Méndez also worked as a professor at the University of Puerto Rico Business School and was part of numerous committees related to education and social well-being, especially of women and young people. She was chairwoman of the Council for the Prevention of Workplace Accidents in 1964. She was the only woman on the board of directors of Eastern Airlines. She was also president of the Puerto Rico chapter of the Business and Professional Women’s Club (1965) and was the first woman to serve as director of the Puerto Rico Red Cross. (1963-1965). In 1975 she participated in a reunión with Dr. Arturo Morales Carrión, President of the University of Puerto Rico, Francisco Carreras, President of the Universidad Católica de Ponce, ángel M. Martín, Associated Jury from Puerto Rico Supreme Courtd, Ricardo Alegría, Director of the Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe, Lcdo. Eric A. González, banker and director of the pharmacies González of Ponce and Dr. Arturo Santana, Director of the History Department at the University of Puerto Rico; in this reunion, they established the rules to founded the Puerto Rico National Endowment of Humanities council later named Fundación Puertorriqueña de las Humanidades.
She received various awards and honors from organizations such as the National Council of La Raza, the Vatican, the American Legion and the Lions Club. In 1975, the Catholic University of Puerto Rico awarded her an honorary doctorate.
She died on February 17, 1997, in San Juan. Today, the Ana G. Méndez University System has an enrollment of more than 17,500 students. In honor of this distinguished educator, the government of Puerto Rico named Highway 176 in Cupey as Ana G. Méndez Avenue.
Original source: Web portal of the Ana G. Méndez University System.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: August 26, 2010.
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