Meet Gissella Gamboa, ’18

From Left to Right: Union alumna Gissella Gamboa, Dr. Melinda “Mindi” Norelli, and Dr. Melissa Sande

Meet Gissella Gamboa, ’18:
Transforming from wallflower to student leader… Gissella joins her many family members as a proud Union alumna!

Major: Liberal Studies

My time as a student at Union County College really transformed me as an individual. I went from being a shy person always buried in my books at the library, to eventually serving as President of the College’s Iota Xi Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), which is the honor society for two-year schools. Thanks to the support and encouragement of my American Honors advisors, the College’s professors, and fellow classmates, I began volunteering for the weekly PTKafe. The next thing I knew I was a Committee Leader for Fellowship in PTK and then President.

For PTK, I organized blood drives, induction ceremonies, fundraising events, and outreach programs. From these experiences I gained the confidence needed to serve on the American Honors Council, as well as hosting fellowship events and helping other students. These extra-curricular activities allowed me to grow and engage with individuals from different backgrounds.

I chose to attend Union because of its diversity, smaller environment, and because my father, aunts, and uncles are all graduates. It was close to home and my support system, making it the right fit. When I first started at the College, I had recently returned to NJ after eight years in Bogota, Colombia. I needed to be somewhere that I felt comfortable.

I had no idea what to major in when I graduated from high school, but I knew I wanted to earn an advanced degree. My major in liberal studies afforded me that flexibility. I was able to explore and shape my academics and take classes in different disciplines in which I was interested. I plan to transfer to a four-year institution and major in economics so I can work in public service.

When I started college, I didn’t know what to expect. Would I enjoy my classes? Would I like my professors? After I took English 102 with Dr. Melissa Sande, I realized I had found my role model. I look up to her and admire her well-rounded academic wisdom. I will cherish the many profound conversations we had while I was jotting down ideas for my next essay. I also have to mention Dr. Melinda Norelli, who supported me during some challenging times and made my happier moments even better. She went above and beyond the call of simply being my teacher and advisor and provided unforgettable support in many ways. With all the responsibilities that I know my professors had, I don’t know how they found the time to help me and other students, but I am thankful they did.

When I look back at my time at Union, I realize the advice my family gave me was right. They told me that college is a place where many doors can be opened and it’s up to me to take advantage of the opportunities presented to me. The truth is, your college experience is what YOU make of it. So, be unafraid, make friends, and study.


After having served on Union’s faculty for five years, Dr. Melissa Sande is now Union’s Dean of Humanities. She knew when she interviewed for her faculty position that Union was a perfect fit for her because her future colleagues were passionate and excited about teaching. Dr. Sande’s Ph.D. is in English, General Literature and Rhetoric from Binghamton University. Her M.A. is in Literature from Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and her B.A. is in Literature and Journalism with a minor in Sociology from Purchase College, State University of New York. Dr. Sande is also fluent in Spanish. A little known fact about her, that she too was a first generation student to attend college in her family, just like many of Union’s students.

Dr. Melinda Norelli is entering her sixth year as an Instructor of psychology for Union. She is also a proud 2008 graduate of Union County College and was a member of PTK, and she now serves as one of their advisors. Dr. Norelli wanted to be a teacher from childhood and she knew when she graduated from Union that she wanted to be a college professor. She began teaching at the College so she could give back all the support and assistance she received as a student. Dr. Norelli earned her Ph.D. in Industrial Organizational Psychology, Organizational Leadership from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, and psychology degrees for her M.A. also from The Chicago School, her B.A. from Drew University, and her A.A. from Union. Dr. Norelli enjoys music and started playing the flute at age 5. She can also play the piccolo and saxophone and was in concert and marching band in high school. She is a self-proclaimed “foodie” and loves to cook and watch cooking shows. Her claim to fame – shucking corn on the pilot episode of Guy Fieri’s “Off the Hook.”