When Mendel Folefac ‘23 first arrived at Newman University for his role as a graduate assistant for the men’s basketball team, he thought of himself as “a car in need of some fine-tuning.”
“I was still finding myself on my journey and wanted to grow in my leadership skills and as a person in general,” Folefac said.
Now, three years later, Folefac leaves Newman with a master’s in business administration (MBA) degree as well as life experience that will aid him no matter where he goes. And whenever he thinks of Newman, the following scripture passage will come to mind:
“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).
“I always want God’s will for my life,” Folefac said. “I never want it to be something that I’m forcing or desiring. … So I just want to say thank you, Newman, for being my Jeremiah 29:11. Because these weren’t my plans — they were definitely God’s — and I’m grateful. There’s so much that I’m taking with me to the next journey and I just pray God continues to bless this place and continually provides every resource needed for it to continue to grow.”
More than a job
If it hadn’t been for men’s basketball coach RJ Allen, Folefac said he wouldn’t have found his way to Newman. Through a connection at the University of Texas at Arlington, Folefac had a Zoom call with Allen, and “he offered me a job on the spot.”
“As a father, coach and man, there are so many hats he wears,” Folefac said. “A great family man like himself, great coach and mentor — I appreciate him. He played a huge role in my life and I’m forever grateful for him.”
Folefac also thanks Director of Admissions Christy Hawks for welcoming him into the Hawks home and family.
“Christy Hawks, I call her ‘Mama Hawks’ outside of school,” he said. “I’m so appreciative of her. And I hope she knows that her family has been nothing but a blessing in my life. Shawn, KJ, Carson, Avery, Elsie. They’ve been an awesome part of my journey here and will definitely be in my heart forever. I’ll never forget them and we’ll continue our relationship even outside of Newman. Words can’t even describe and I’m so appreciative.”
When Folefac moved to the role of Newman director of residence life in August 2022, his biggest priority was to ensure the safety of students and support them in and out of the classroom.
Although he had no prior experience in a director position, Folefac believes it helped him grow as a person.
“It prepared me for life-altering circumstances that can sometimes be out of my control and helped me find a way of bringing it into control,” he said.
He added, “If you’re not being challenged, then how can you grow?”
Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success Christine Schneikart-Luebbe is just one of many who will always appreciate the work Mendel contributed to the university mission.
“He consistently went above and beyond, putting the needs of others before his own,” she said. “His positive influence, empathy and genuine concern for others made a real difference in the lives of our students and was a true gift to our campus. … His positive impact will be remembered for years to come and I feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to work alongside someone as remarkable as Mendel.”
Building on the path set before him
Folefac was one of 429 graduates who earned their degrees from Newman at commencement May 12. He was inspired to earn his MBA, in part, by his father’s exemplary work ethic, and is the first male in his family to graduate from college.
“I don’t tell him this very often, but I’ve always looked up to my dad,” Folefac said. “My family has a hospital in Cameroon called Eagle Medical Center. My dad had the vision and just seeing all the work and dedication he put into it was really admirable.”
Serving as the director of residence life at Newman can seem like a 24/7 job. Adding a master’s program to the mix seemed daunting at first, but the professors assured Folefac that he could get through.
“They gave me patience and assured me that I could do the work and keep the work and life balance as well,” Folefac said. “And the more I got into the program, the more I loved learning about different cultures and administrative styles. I can’t wait to see what’s in store.”
His concentration in diversity, equity and inclusion spoke to his personal values. It also gave him the background necessary to serve people from a variety of cultures as he assists with the family hospital.
For now, Folefac is headed home to Texas to focus on family and his father’s decline in health. After three years away, “my next role is just being a son to my parents.”
“Last year, my dad came back from Africa and wasn’t feeling so well,” Folefac explained. “Thank God for Coach Allen. He was there by my side the whole way and thankfully the doctors were able to take care of my dad and it wasn’t anything life-threatening at that moment. But I’m grateful for Coach Allen for giving me the reassurance that everything was going to be OK.”
In the middle of any challenge, Folefac turned to his faith.
“I’m nothing without God in my life,” Folefac said. “I thank God for my parents because they instilled the importance of faith in me at a very young age.”
Looking to the horizon, Folefac soon hopes to pursue a position as a foreign officer specialist for the U.S. Embassy. He plans to take the OA test in June and is excited to launch his career of service. By the end of his career, Folefac hopes to be an entrepreneur with multiple businesses.
“We’ll see where God takes me,” he said.
Newman gratitude and special shoutouts
Folefac has a long list of people to thank from his time at Newman. So much so, that he reached out to the editor three additional times in order to fully capture his gratitude for Newman staff and faculty members.
“I wish I could thank everyone, but here goes,” Folefac said.
“Angie McCoy (assistant dean, MBA program director) is amazing,” he said. “She really helped guide me through the process of making that decision to pursue my MBA and have a concentration in DEI. I love (Director of Adult and Professional Studies) Teresa Wilkerson’s spirit and Brian Epperson (professor of business) is an awesome guy. The professors were just amazing.
“Dyana Baca, Steve Hamersky and Wesley Cornett from the Dugan Library, I love them,” Folefac added. “I appreciate that group right there so much. They are fun to be around, they are funny, they’re honest. They’re real. They’re not going to beat around the bush. Each of them has a wonderful personality of their own and I’m forever grateful for them. I wish I wasn’t as busy in my role because I could have spent more time with them. There were a lot of times that I was supposed to hang out and because of job duties, I couldn’t always be there. But I care so much for them and I wish them all the best in the future.
“I would love to shout out Christine Schniekart-Luebbe, and Debora Jensen. Those two are amazing. They’ve done so much, not only in my department but just for the school in general. And I’m totally grateful for them.
“Conni Mansaw has been awesome,” Folefac added, “She’s been a lot of support to me in my time here, and I’m very grateful for her help and for guiding me along my pathway and my role at Newman.”
“Dr. Yelando Johnson, she’s been awesome. I will sneak in McNeill Hall first floor and come in, knock on her door, sit down and talk with her. I really appreciate her.
“If I could shout out my previous and present dean of students, Dr. Sara Mata (former) and Dr. Andi Giesen. Both had different operating styles but I’m grateful for both of them, for the things they taught me in my role and position. They’ve been a blessing in my life and great mentors in their own ways.
“I am so grateful for the help and service of Melanie Flanagan, Victoria Green and Myra Pfannenstiel. Man, Myra is just someone I could talk to for advice, she’s always encouraging and uplifting. Everyone in the office is just good to have conversations with, joke around and still get work done at the same time.
“I’m also grateful for the friendship and support of Kate Bussell, Hank Lawski and Madeline Vardell. They were there for me when I needed advice and I definitely want to show them some love.
“Melissa and Clark Castle are amazing,” he said. “I truly love that couple, their spirit, their commitment to their roles and just who they are. I love Clark. We actually have a Pokemon match coming up. He’s a very thoughtful person. And Melissa, she’ll be doing her workouts and stretching in the gym in the afternoon and she’s always on it. She’s so efficient at what she does. Not only that, but she’s a great leader. She’s a leader in DEI and she’s been nothing but amazing in that role. She has such a heart for people that’s pure and she always is looking for the best of everybody as a group. I’m forever grateful for them.
“Marguerite Regan would come do workouts at the YMCA where I worked, and I appreciate her joy, spirit, for checking on me, good conversation…. I appreciate her being around.
“I’m grateful for all of the business (finance and administration) office,” Folefac said. “Brenna Bonham, Jessica Haffner, Nicole Brown and Tony Beata. Tony and I had some great conversations. He has so much wisdom, he’s calm, cool and collected. He shared some of his story growing up as a person and what he had to go through, and I really appreciate him communicating to me on that level. I’m very grateful for that man.
“Dana Beitey, she’s awesome. Just sweet and always welcoming, nice and thoughtful so I really appreciate her.
“Daniel Murphy, whenever I needed something, he was there and he got it done quickly. I wish I could have spent more time just getting to know him, but other than that, I’m just appreciative of his presence and everything he’s done here. It doesn’t go unnoticed and I’m grateful for it.
“Katherine Reynoso came here as a counselor, perfected it, is hardworking and now she’s moved up to director of multicultural engagement and campus life and is doing such a fantastic job in that role as well. None of that goes unnoticed and I’m grateful for her.
“Now Georgia Drewes knows this, but I love her and I love her husband, too, because Chris and I will wake up in the mornings and play basketball around 6 a.m.,” he said with a laugh. “And Georgia is awesome. She’s so passionate about what she does and how she does it. She’s a team player, one of the ultimate team players, and I appreciate all the effort she puts in that doesn’t go unnoticed.
“I love Joshua Prilliman, man. Josh is who he is — he’s that 1%. He is the ultimate Newman person, he is who he is without a blemish and he’s so authentic. His future is so bright and he has a wonderful wife by his side. They both came to the Newman dance that we had in Student Life and I’m just so happy for them. And people may not know this but he is an amazing artist, people should check out his artwork. He is gifted in so many ways.
“Shoutout to Dr. Jill Fort and her husband, Keith,” he said. “They’re great and a wonderful couple. Jill has just been a light whenever I had needed advice, she will always ‘put me on game’ and give me better insight on things I may not be aware of in my role. I’m just truly grateful for her.
“I gotta shout out Vanessa Rials. Vanessa has been just amazing. She would always give me insight on my role, my position and just check in on me. I truly appreciate that, and truly grateful for that. I’m just grateful to cross paths with her along this journey.
“Alden Stout is awesome,” Folefac said. “He’s been a person that, whenever I see him, he has a smile on. We always have good conversations and I’m appreciative of him everything that he’s just done for me and my path and my journey.
“Athletic Director Joanna Pryor, she’s a comedian, by the way — she is hilarious. Whenever I go to her office, I’m just expecting a joke or something. Anytime I need a laugh, she gets me going. I appreciate her and the job that she does here. Her daughters are awesome, too. I’m going to miss seeing them at games.
“I have to shoutout to Director of Mission Effectiveness Sister Therese Wetta. Words can’t explain. She’s been somebody I can confide in, reach out to and talk to. She will always tell me the truth and nothing short of it, say it out of love, too. She’s a woman of faith. I respect her so much for that.
“Director of Security Mo Floyd is my guy, and he is a fast walker,” Folefac said with a laugh. “He is a faith encourager, always looking out for everybody. He truly loves this campus and the students, and he wants to see all them thrive. I think that brings a lot of joy to his heart. He’s been nothing but a light for me on this campus. He got me on that track every morning in the gym walking around. And I’m not kidding when I say he’s a fast walker. I’m grateful for him and everything that he’s been in my time here.
“I’m definitely grateful for Director of Human Resources Chris Keener. He’s really just been a great person to talk to. He’s just been always there to check on me and I’m so appreciative of that.
“Shoutout to Paco Gonzalez and Dan Slate, they truly work so hard and do so many things around this campus. I don’t know how they have the strength to keep going, but they do it. They’ve been nothing short of amazing for me. So I’m truly grateful for those two and their department.
“Celine (Marchetti) works with Scott (Stardy)‘s awesome team, and Celine is so sweet. I’m truly grateful for that woman. She checks in on me and just shows lots of love. And she’s such a strong woman. I’m truly appreciative of her and her due diligence on everything that she does. She carries such a graceful heart about everything. She’s always smiling and just checking on everybody.
“One thing I learned from President (Kathleen) Jagger in a short period of time is ‘forgive and teach,’” Folefac explained. “A lot of times these students and people in general make mistakes. Instead of being quick to give them consequences, let’s give them forgiveness and teach them why the choices or the decisions they made could have been better … Instead of verbal consequences, forgive them and teach them. To be able to hear that kind of wisdom, hopefully I can pass it down outside of Newman and build upon that forgive-and-teach method as well.”
He added with a beaming smile, “This is Mr. Mendel, signing out.”
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