When Dr. Angel Mejico graduated from her United States Sports Academy doctoral degree program, one of her instructors gave her a piece of advice that has stuck with her ever since.

“He told me, ‘take everything you learned here and go do something great with it,’” Mejico said, and she did just that.

While working as a visual arts teacher at El Cerrito Middle School in California’s Corona-Norco Unified School District, Mejico founded an art academy and annual art expo which has gained notoriety around the state. Because of her efforts in the classroom and school district, Mejico was named one of California’s five Teachers of the Year in 2019.

Mejico earned her Doctor of Education degree in sports management with a sports leadership emphasis from the Academy in 2016.

“The Academy taught me a different way of thinking,” Mejico said. “Every course I took taught something different and useful. I wasn’t used to that, because so often in degree programs there are courses that you just kind of forget. But that’s not the case at the Academy.

“One course touched on looking at how people respond to different situations. I’ve been able to use that with the kids I teach every day. Another course that was impactful was about facilities management. I used that one to set up our school’s weight room and other facilities.

“Most of all, my time at the Academy was the first time I experienced an impactful relationship with my professors,” she said. “I wasn’t just another number. My Academy professors cared about me and I still consider them friends today. I try to use that same teaching style with my kids at school. I try to always treat them like a person and not as another student to shuffle through the system.”

At El Cerrito, Mejico teaches 450 students per year and exposes them to art, cinematography, animatronics, technology and other forms of creative expression. She was originally a physical education teacher, but founded the Art Academy and Art Expo at the school and decided to pursue those areas of focus going forward.

“I immerse students in technology: cinematography, animatronics, projection mapping, light boards,” Mejico said. “Art opens their eyes to alternative world views. It explodes in them, goading them to be great in everything they do using new ways to do it. I teach the child, not just art. Art is the path to introduce life skills.”

A former multi-sport athlete, Mejico also registered as a volunteer for the upcoming Los Angeles 2028 Summer Olympics. She fell in love with the Olympics when her parents took her to events at the Los Angeles 1984 Games.

“Olympism was ingrained in me at a young age,” Mejico said. “I loved everything about it, from the athletes and the events to the pageantry and art surrounding them. One of my favorite classes at the Academy was the Olympism course because it digs into three things I love about the Olympics: sports, art, and giving back.”