Jessica Muniz always knew she wanted to be in a profession where she could help others, but the answer to how she would accomplish this remained up in the air. Or at least it did until she began college.
“I was unsure of what career I wanted to pursue,” Muniz said. “I took classes for psychology, sociology and social work, and I ended up enjoying social work the most.”
Now, Muniz is graduating from NAU Yuma with a bachelor’s degree in social work, is a Gold Axe Award recipient and plans to go on to Arizona State University to obtain a master’s degree.
Muniz was inspired to become a figure of support for others due to her own family dynamics when she was growing up. She was born in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico; at the time, her father crossed the border every day to work as a field worker in the States. When she was five years old, her family decided to relocate to California to facilitate her dad’s ability to work. Her family’s economic status made them eligible to receive financial assistance through programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Campesinos Unidos, an organization that helps low-income families by providing aid in various ways.
“Although my family and I were exposed to these organizations because of our situation, there are people in my community that are not aware that these resources are available to them and are not taking advantage of the help. Being a social worker will help me reach more people with the need for these types of resources.”
Another reason Muniz was called to the social work profession was her family’s experience when her father underwent a delicate surgery. She recalls her family being devastated and in distress at the uncertainty of the procedure’s outcomes. Before the surgery, the hospital social worker approached Muniz and her parents to discuss every potential outcome and provided the family with the assurance that no matter what happened, she would help the family through it. “Having her be very transparent and empathetic with my family and me made me confirm my choice in being a social worker.”
In addition to inspiring her degree, her family also influenced Muniz’ outlook on education. Her parents wanted a different future for her, and they sacrificed their own education at a young age to help their own families by working. Muniz said her parents always encouraged her to complete her education and pursue whatever she was drawn to.
“I would like to thank my parents that have supported my education since the very beginning. Although we are a Hispanic low-income family, my parents never made me doubt about pursuing higher education. I would not have been able to pursue my goals without my family and friends who have been there for me when I have needed them the most.”
Additionally, she said, her time at NAU has impacted her outlook on education and her experience led to her now wanting to continue in higher education upon graduation.
Leading for awareness
Muniz, along with classmates Altonia Aguilar, Briseth Arrendondo Felix, Melissa Robles and Jennifer Villegas Contreras, created an LGBTQ+ Supportive Resources Fair at the NAU Yuma campus to help bring awareness and resources to the LGBTQ+ and Yuma community. The idea behind this event was inspired by Muniz and Aguilar being from California and mentioning that the Imperial Valley LGBT resource center was hosting a “Queer Prom” event to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community in one of their classes. By researching and comparing the LGBTQ+ communities from California and Arizona, the team became aware of the lack of resources and support for the LGBTQ+ community in Arizona, especially in the city of Yuma.
“We took advantage of half of our students being from Arizona and California,” Muniz said. “We began contacting resources that would like to attend our resource fair to bring their LGBTQ+ friendly resources to our event. This event helped our LGBTQ+ community, but also helped our local businesses advertise their services.”
The team presented their contribution to the LGBT community at the World Social Science Association (WSSA). WSSA draws scholars and others in 32 disciplines, or “sections,” from throughout the United States and the world; convenes an annual conference; conducts research competitions for faculty and students and publishes The Social Science Journal, a juried, quarterly research journal.
Another event Muniz contributed to was a Social Work Fair. The event aimed to provide more students with information on career opportunities social work has to offer. “Many people have stereotypes of what a social worker looks like and does, but social work branches out to so many different options.” Muniz was proud to have the opportunity to speak with transfer students by taking advantage of the event’s location. “Because NAU Yuma is located at the Arizona Western College (AWC) campus, it created the opportunity to speak with college transfer students about thinking about social work as their next step.”
Regardless of the barriers, we persevere
Muniz’s college experience was not what most would call the typical experience, if such a thing exists. But regardless of the different challenges she’s faced, she continues to prove to herself and those around her of one thing:
“No matter your race, language(s), age and socioeconomic background, you can achieve whatever goal you have for yourself.”