HOUSTON – Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz, President of the University of Houston-Downtown, has helped expand the school's reputation in the city and throughout the state.
Under his leadership, UHD has experienced growth in many areas. In 2018, the university posted its first enrollment increase in four years and exceeded its largest capital campaign goal. Additionally, he has helped steer $80 million in capital projects with more in development.
Outside of the university, Muñoz serves on several boards and committees focused on enhancing Houston's economic and cultural landscapes and national organizations aimed at academic excellence. Among these is an appointment from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to the North Houston Highway Improvement Project Board.
Prior to UHD, Muñoz served as a Senior Vice President and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education & Student Affairs at Texas Tech University (TTU) and served as a professor in the institution's College of Education. Before arriving in the Lone Star State, he was a faculty member in the Department of Secondary Education at California State University Fullerton.
Here is an interview with him:
1. What do you think Houstonians can do to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?
Houstonians can look within their own communities and celebrate Hispanic leaders, activists and elected officials who are making a difference. They can also explore the historic contributions of Hispanics to the development of Houston and surrounding cities. In our city, we have a number of exemplary leaders, such as Texas legislators Sen. Carol Alvarado, Rep. Christina Morales and Rep. Mary Ann Perez. They exemplify how cultural pride and professional success are not mutually exclusive. Houston also is home to many others who are contributing to the growth of our region ... educators, artists, police officers, firefighters, doctors, lawyers and professionals across a range of industries. Some of these role models include Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña, and Houston Community College Chancellor Dr. Cesar Maldonado. We should acknowledge their accomplishments and thank them for making Houston one of the best cities in the United States and for representing Hispanics in their respective fields.
2. What plans do you have to benefit the Hispanic community at UHD?
UHD is among the most diverse institutions of higher education in our nation. It has been designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution with more than 50 percent of its students identifying as Hispanic or Latino. UHD also is recognized as a Minority Serving Institution.
Our institution offers students from all cultural backgrounds a learning environment that is affordable, accessible and achievable. UHD also is home to centers of study that provide students with a broader understanding of issues facing local and global communities. The Center for Latino Studies and the Center for Critical Race Studies host programming that educates and enriches our students. And various initiatives conducted by our College of Public Service are specifically designed to impact Hispanics in our community.
I have been proud to participate in one such initiative "Camino a la Universidad," which provides mentoring to middle school Latinas and allows them to visit our university. For many of these students, this is their introduction to a college campus … and this program allows them to realize what awaits them after high school. Another program, the UHDE-Library provides free online children's books to English language learners and their families. These short texts are written in both English and Spanish to help these students learn to read and understand a new language.
3. What inspired you to become a university president?
I learned early on from my parents, neither of whom enjoyed the benefit of a formal education in Mexico, the importance of school, and how it could help liberate one from economic and intellectual poverty. Increasingly as I became educated through grade school and college, I was exposed to Latinos and Latinas in positions of influence. These include Raymund Paredes, who recently served as Commissioner for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. I saw how he and others exercised their abilities and positions to the benefit of our community, and I became convinced that I could do the same.
As Houston's only Hispanic university president and the only Mexican-American male president of a public university in the state, it's important to set a strong example for academics and students from similar ethnic and cultural backgrounds and inspire others to follow their dream of completing their education … and in their own unique ways contribute to their communities, and in doing so, enrich Texas and the United States of America.
4. What is your favorite thing about the City of Houston?
Houston is a world-class city that has much to offer. I appreciate its professional sports teams, entertainment, cultural offerings and restaurants. Most importantly, I appreciate the ambition and drive of those who reside here.
When I arrived in Houston, I was impressed by its sheer size … but I was more taken by the kindness of Houstonians. It is a big city with an even bigger heart. My favorite thing about Houston is how it is welcoming of new residents, including myself and my family who just arrived here just over two years ago. For one of the largest cities in America, it remains a collegial community that offers both residents and visitors a unique metropolitan experience.
5. What advice do you have for Hispanic students throughout Texas?
Nothing is more important than becoming educated, engaged and serving as a strong example of the hope and vision of your community. I encourage Hispanic students and those from all cultures to honor the generations before them by maintaining a focus on excellence and working hard. They should raise the bar for future leaders and set an example for tomorrow's generations through effort, honesty, integrity and perseverance.
6. What are some of your favorite nonprofit organizations that you have been involved with?
I am honored to be a member of the Houston Parks Board and the Discovery Green Board of Directors. Through these appointments, I have become well acquainted with our city's parks and recreational areas. And, I am also a supporter, and member, of the Houston YMCA.
Additionally, I have learned much about the local organization Children at Risk, which is led by UHD family member Dr. Robert Sanborn. This is an outstanding organization that advocates for the protection of young people in our community and across the nation.