Humphrey School Alumnus in Action: Advancing Global Understanding

Izaak Mendoza wants to help Americans understand foreign affairs more effectively
July 26, 2023
Portrait of Izaak Mendoza
Humphrey School alumnus Izaak Mendoza works at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy Izaak Mendoza

By Elizabeth Foy Larsen

Izaak Mendoza (MPP/MBA ’20) and his wife, Becky Mendoza, didn’t know anyone when they moved to Minnesota from Wyoming to begin graduate school at the University of Minnesota. Mendoza’s solution to finding friends? He joined the University’s marching band.

“A terrible idea,” he says now with a chuckle, referring to the time crunch that marching band added to an already busy schedule: along with classes and studying he had a job at the Minnesota State Capitol. “But it was also a great idea because it gave me a sense of community and belonging.” 

A percussionist, Mendoza helped launch the social media campaign that got the band a spot in the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis, where it performed during Justin Timberlake’s halftime show. 

Mendoza's passion for promotion has paid off. He's now the associate director of advertising and digital marketing at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington, D.C. CFR is a nonpartisan think tank that promotes understanding of international relations and foreign policy.

Group photo of Gopher marching band members at the 2018 Super Bowl
Mendoza with the Gopher marching band at the 2018 Super Bowl. Photo courtesy Izaak Mendoza

Mendoza says his interest in international affairs started when he was an undergraduate at the University of Wyoming. A first-generation student of dual heritage—he is Hispanic and American Indian—he studied international relations, Spanish, religious studies, and anthropology.

“I wanted to see how the world worked—or didn’t,” he says. 

Mendoza chose the U of M because he wanted a graduate school program that offered experiential learning. After doing his research, "I only applied to the University of Minnesota." 

In three years, he completed both a master’s in public policy from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and an MBA from the Carlson School of Management. “I knew I wanted to live at this intersection of policy and business,” he says. “They are both so intricately woven in our society today.” 

His mentor made a difference 

After his first semester at the Humphrey School, he got his dream internship in the public diplomacy bureau of the U.S. State Department. He credits his mentor Mary Curtin, the Humphrey School’s diplomat-in-residence at the time, for connecting him to this and many other opportunities. 

Curtin tapped him for leadership roles, and introduced him to people at the State Department and U.S. Department of Commerce, and even U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield. "Those were really special moments for me," he says.  

Today, Mendoza’s job at CFR involves promoting the organization’s work via digital ads, including in Politico and Axios, and on streaming platforms. He’s particularly interested in helping educators tap into CFR’s resources, which include books and its magazine, Foreign Affairs.

“My job is to bring the skills I’ve learned in the corporate side into a nonprofit think tank, and to help Americans understand what’s going on in a deeper way. World topics are often very complex. And so people shy away from them," he says. 

"We provide resources that help people understand what’s going on so they can make educated, informed decisions—not only the everyday reader, but the policymakers who come to us to understand [for example] what the war in Ukraine means for agriculture prices in a different country.” 

A version of this story was originally published in Minnesota Alumni magazine