Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz Sees an Optimistic Future at UHD
When he was growing up in Los Angeles, Sánchez Muñoz, president of the University of Houston Downtown, says his father, an immigrant from Mexico, worked six days a week in a factory to help provide for the family. He didn’t complain, Muñoz recalls. He just got it done.
“I saw my parents work,” said Muñoz, noting that the life of an immigrant is often a hard one. “But they saw that they had an opportunity here. And they shared their values of character and work ethic and integrity with me – the bar was set very high.”
Getting an education was part of that high bar, and Muñoz did so, earning his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Following a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps where he served in the 1990-91 Gulf War, he earned his master’s degree in Mexican-American studies from California State University Los Angeles, then completed his Ph.D. at UCLA. He later taught at Pacific Oakes and Whittier colleges, and would go on to Texas Tech, where he was senior vice president and vice provost for undergraduate education. He took the reins at UHD in February 2017.
“Downtown looks like the world,” he says of both his campus and the city core. “There is such a spirit of discovery and possibility here.”
Muñoz loves the energy of Houston, its endless optimism and its resilience. He sees those same qualities in UHD’s students, many of whom are older students – the average age of a UHD student is 26 – juggling their education with jobs and families. Muñoz sees the immigrant story writ large at UHD, and he’s proud to play a role in it.
“I love interacting with the students,” he says. “Knowing who they are, what they want to do. Knowing that we are playing a role in helping them achieve their success. I see this university as an invaluable catalyst.”
When Muñoz speaks about education, he talks about it not only as a vital foundation for a student’s future success, but as a gift he himself received that helped him go from being a factory worker’s son to a college president. He loves the diversity and growth of the student body on campus, and he’s looking to build on it, shooting for an enrollment of 15,500 by 2020. As a 100 percent commuter campus, Muñoz knows, too, that students need support and resources not only to feel connected to campus and to each other, but to reach their goals.
For Muñoz, his career in education is personal. Throughout his life, he had teachers and mentors who believed in him, and he wants to be sure his university provides those same experiences for students. He also knows the value of having students who look like he does see someone like him in a leading role.
“To be Latinos in our careers is not insignificant,” he says about himself and his wife, who is an associate professor at the University of Houston. “We take our responsibility very seriously.”
And Muñoz has little doubt that he’ll achieve the goals he laid for himself at UHD, thereby helping students achieve theirs.
“I feel, with typical Houston optimism that there isn’t anything this city and UHD can’t accomplish.”