To say José Muñoz is busy making a difference is an understatement.
He’s not only educating students as an associate professor of sociology at Cal State San Bernardino, but he is also a co-principal investigator for an external grant helping contingent Latinx faculty in STEM; faculty director of CSUSB’s Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program; a member of the American Sociological Association taskforce focused on first-generation and working-class people; a member on the President’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Board, which CSUSB President Tomás D. Morales invited him to serve; and will be a consultant for a grant to support the formation of an inclusive mentoring hub for contingent faculty.
“I want to help people,” he says with a smile. “I think that there are projects and initiatives and goals that the campus has that I know I can help with. I like helping my students. The things that I am involved in, do come back to helping students. … I like working with faculty who are interested in helping people. There are some great faculty I’m working with on campus who have this particular goal in mind – how do we best serve our students?”
His drive stems from a number of things, but it mainly comes down to his own identity.
It comes from his experiences as a first-generation student. Eighty-one percent of CSUSB students are first-generation, allowing Muñoz to relate to a lot of them and the challenges that they may face. In fact, he is the first person in his family to graduate high school, let alone go to college.
“I think I connect to our students … I think I do understand, not in all cases, but I think I do understand where a lot of them are coming from,” says Muñoz, who has been part of CSUSB since 2011. “I think for most of my time at Cal State San Bernardino, I connected the most to them – not to other staff members, necessarily, or faculty – but to them.”
It is also because his roots lie firmly in San Bernardino, where his parents still reside. “I was also born here in San Bernardino, so I feel a sense of obligation on that end as well,” he says.
Regarding service to the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the campus, he simply has an innate desire to help people out. “I don’t want to let my colleagues down,” he says. “So, when they ask me for help, I want to try to help them if I can.”
Whatever the case may be, Muñoz is motivated to help both his students and fellow faculty members. For students, he consistently questions how to better guide them, especially since he “floundered” in his own undergraduate experience. His work has led him to being recognized with the Faculty Research and Creative Activities Mentor Award from the university’s Office of Student Research earlier this year.
“Mentorship has been a big part of my life,” says Muñoz, noting that a student from the Mellon Mays program, who he “pushed pretty hard,” nominated him for the award. “It’s always something that I’ve done … It means a lot.”
Muñoz’s drive to help has also led him to join the American Sociological Association (ASA) on First Generation and Working Class Persons in Sociology in 2019. After four years of meetings, data collections, writings and presentations, the taskforce released its executive summary in mid-September, which focuses on first-generation and working-class people.
“What I hope to do with that particular piece is give it to our deans, the provost and a few other key people so they can reflect on what we’ve found,” he explains. “If we find issues, barriers, struggles that first-gen, working-class people are facing in academia in sociology, let’s say, we are going to see them in other disciplines. ... I think they can reflect on some of the issues like alienation, discrimination, housing insecurity. I think our faculty are aware of these topics, but if they can see rigorous data that tells you a very clear story about what first-gen and working-class people are facing, then that’s important for our campus.”
The ASA taskforce also plans to create a mentoring program for graduate students and faculty “because folks still need help even when they’ve had several years of education.”
While Muñoz is proud of the work he has done and continues to do with the ASA, he is most proud of the National Science Foundation (NSF) collaborative grant he received, which explores the realities of contingent Latinx faculty in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).
Once a contingent faculty member himself, he said “it ended up being something that my identity spoke to as well, which has been nice.”
“The successes that I’ve had over the last three-and-a-half years have sort of been monumental in a lot of ways,” says Muñoz, who partnered with Idalis Villanueva, an associate professor in the Department of Engineering Education at the University of Florida, on the NSF grant. “One of the dreams that I had for myself was earning a major foundation grant, an external grant.
“It was a big deal for me because it was something I always wanted to accomplish and after so many applications I submitted, I really didn’t think it was going to happen. My colleague and I finally landed on an idea that was competitive and we did great work.”
What made it even more special was the fact that it was a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) STEM grant. CSUSB has been an HSI since 1994.
“I didn’t plan on that, but it was a really nice contribution to our campus and highlights the great work and needs of our students at Hispanic-Serving Institutions,” Muñoz says. “We are representing a very important voice in our country.”
Part of the grant allowed Muñoz to put together an on-campus conference for contingent CSU Latinx faculty in STEM. Although planning the event was at times arduous, Muñoz says all the hard work paid off when he met with the participating faculty. Because after all, he loves helping people.
“I can tell it was meaningful to the faculty, which meant a lot to me,” he says. “Even if it was for a short moment, they were able to connect and feel a bond and know that what they are experiencing is what a lot of contingent faculty are experiencing. So, I think it was important for them to see that they are not alone.”