Melane Olmeda can trace the origins of her work ethic to a childhood struggle with chronic migraines.
As a young girl growing up in Watsonville, near Santa Cruz, debilitating headaches often sidelined her from play and required her to be homeschooled for long stretches.
From that early struggle, Olmeda learned the importance of living her life fully and embraced every opportunity to learn and do that Cal Poly Pomona offered. From the editorial board of the political science department’s undergraduate journal to Kellogg Honors College to Model U.N. to Bronco Lead and Bronco Mentor, Olmeda’s list of co-curricular and extracurricular activities is varied and robust.
“That’s where my desire to do a lot of stuff comes from. It’s because I couldn’t do a lot growing up,” Olmeda said of her childhood. “It’s where my motivation comes from. When you feel well enough, you have to get up and do something.”
The culmination of all that she has achieved will come on May 22, when the Chino resident will cross the stage to receive her bachelor’s degree in political science. She won’t stop there though. In the fall, she will start a dual program at USC to first earn a master’s degree in public administration and then her Juris Doctor. Olmeda plans to attend classes at night and hopes to find a job during the day working for a city or in the office of a state or local politician.
Discovering Her Career Path
While her career interests currently are in law and politics, Olmeda had something else in mind when she began her academic journey. The transfer student, who came to Cal Poly Pomona from Chaffey College in fall 2021, originally was a culinary major.
“I worked at a bakery and always loved baking,” she said. “So, I took a lot of culinary courses, but I still had political science in the back of my mind. When I realized I wanted to pursue political science, I was taking those classes along with my culinary classes.”
From June to September 2022, she interned at U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein’s Los Angeles office, attending city council and community meetings and answering phone calls from constituents. She never had the opportunity to meet the senator but said the experience was invaluable.
“It really shifted my career trajectory,” Olmeda said. “I enjoyed her outreach and how much she cares about her constituents.”
The internship also showed her the important work of elected officials shaping public policy.
“Sometimes you feel like politicians don’t listen to what you say, that it doesn’t have an impact, but at the senator’s office, I felt like it did,” she said. “You would see messages being written down. Those would go into a report to the senator and her staff. It made me realize that you do have a voice, and I saw how embedded in the community they are.”
Olmeda also took the judicial internship class in fall 2022, a signature polytechnic experience course, taught by Political Science Professor Elli Menounou where students attend court sessions and interact with judges, court clerks, attorneys and bailiffs. That experience also helped solidify her plan to eventually become an attorney, she said.
The course encourages student to keep an open mind in looking at possible careers, something Olmeda does in other areas of her life as well.
“In my life, so many things have been unplanned, so I try to stay open to opportunities,” she said.
Majoring in Responsibility
As the mother of an 8-year-old son, Mason, embracing new opportunities for learning and discovery requires juggling the demands of parenting, work, school and community. She volunteers at her son’s school as a member of the Parent Faculty Association. She also is in the Parenting Broncos Club and the Library Club on campus. On Fridays, she volunteers at the LA Food Bank, a practice she started when she was a teen.
“I stick to a calendar,” Olmeda said. “I don’t sleep as much as I should. After my son goes to bed, I clean and then do homework until 2 a.m.”
She also works two on-campus jobs. Since August 2021, she has served as a Cal Fresh Outreach Ambassador for the university’s Care Center, a first-stop center for students with basic care needs. She also works in the Office of Governmental and External Affairs, helping to prepare legislative briefing documents and supporting the office’s social media accounts.
Michelle Viorato, the interim assistant director for government and external affairs, said that Olmeda has served as a Bronco Advocacy League Ambassador, encouraging students to vote in elections through events and social media videos. She describes Olmeda as an initiative-taker and a hard worker.
“Melane is phenomenal. She takes initiative, works quickly and shares lots of great ideas and perspectives,” Viorato said. “She’s fully present wherever she is. Whether she is working 20 hours a week or eight hours a week, she puts 100 percent into the work whenever she is here.”
And even with all her responsibilities at home, Olmeda recently found the time to participate in the Geneva Study Abroad program, a 10-day trip to Paris and Geneva that included tours, meetings with non-governmental organizations tackling global issues and dialogue with other students attending college in the Swiss city.
Political Science Professor Renford Reese, who guided students on the March trip, describes Olmeda as intellectually curious, a creative and critical thinker, and a problem solver.
In a letter of recommendation for her graduate school application to USC, Reese ranked Olmeda in the top 1 percent of undergraduate students he has taught at Cal Poly Pomona in terms of engagement and participation on campus.
“She is a super student,” Reese said. “She made As on every assignment in my classes. I think it is amazing that she works on campus, is also a mom, and participates in programs like Model U.N. She does it all.”
Olmeda credits Cal Poly Pomona with providing her with opportunities to have many varied experiences, as well as support and care to students as they chart their path to success.
“I feel like the campus really wants you to succeed, whether that’s providing resources campuswide or whether it’s your department supporting you,” she said. “They are here to help you. They just really try to push you towards success. That’s what I love about CPP. There is that little something that is pushing you and wants you to be a better version of yourself.”