Scholarship Support Will Help Mara Melendez Baker ’23MED Achieve Goals of Making an Impact as a Counselor, Helping the Military Community
Born and raised near Fort Bragg, Mara Melendez Baker ’23MED grew up in a military family. Both her father and brother served in the Army, and when Baker graduated from Methodist University in 2014, she took a job as an admissions coordinator and advisor at the university’s Fort Bragg location.
There, she worked with military service members, veterans and their dependents, helping them with questions related to admissions, registration and financial aid.
“There were these moments that these military-affiliated students would enter the office, and they would look stressed, or you could tell that they were dealing with other issues not related to their academics, so for them, I was their listening ear,” Baker said.
Baker knew there was more she could do to help, and in 2020 she began to consider earning her Master of Education in College Counseling and Student Development at the NC State College of Education. As an older student, she was nervous at first about returning to college, but conversations with Associate Teaching Professor Angie Smith, coordinator for the Counselor Education program, assured her it was the right choice.
“Here I am two years later, and all the professors and the cohort I’m in have made this a rewarding college experience, especially being a distance student,” Baker said. “NC State and the students and the faculty have, with their continuous support, encouraging words and a listening ear, made me proud that I made that decision in 2020 to be part of the Wolfpack family.”
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She has also received scholarship support, in the form of the Beatrice and Roy Anderson Award, which helped encourage her to achieve her goals.
“It’s made me realize my actions, my hard work, my dedication, not only in school, but in my community, has not gone unnoticed,” Baker said. “It gave me more motivation to keep moving forward, knowing that NC State and the Wolfpack family believes in my future.”
Baker is active in the military community through her work with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). As a surviving military sibling and Gold Star family member, Baker feels a deep, personal connection to the organization. She lost her brother, Army Spc. Jose Melendez Jr., in 2017.
“I wanted to give back to that community that reached out to my family,” Baker said. “TAPS pretty much provides that comfort and hope 24/7. There’s always someone on the clock through peer support, networking and connection and grief resources.”
In her position, she reaches out to other military family members who have lost siblings.
“They have faced trauma and grief after losing their military loved one and pretty much the peer support is to get them assistance and talk to someone who just gets it and understands that type of loss,” Baker said.
Baker said working with the program has helped her with her own personal grief journey, while also giving her an opportunity to provide hope to those who might not feel like there is any left.
“It’s also giving me more of a push to complete this program at NC State and keep advocating on behalf of all students and the military community, inspiring them to know that they’re able to move forward in their life and with grief, but knowing at the end they are capable of becoming their best self,” Baker said. “And maybe one day they’ll be able to come back to TAPS or something else in their community and just pay it forward.”
That’s what she hopes to do with her degree — pay it forward.
“Once I graduate, I do want to take the [Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor] licensure exam, so I can be able to continue having a direct impact on the lives and well being of future clients, students and the military community in its entirety,” Baker said. “Having the license is going to lead to my dream career of being a counselor and knowing that I had a part in affecting the lives of others.”
Baker also sees it as a way of honoring her brother.
“I’m reminded daily since the loss of my brother that we must live life to the fullest,” Baker said. “When I share my story and when I accomplish my own goals in life all of it will be in honor of him. I am his surviving legacy.”