Southeast Missouri State University graduate student Dulce Maldonado Muñoz told the Southeast Board of Regents today that Southeast has made it possible for her to successfully pursue both her higher education and career goals.
Muñoz, of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, formerly of Bragg City, Missouri, is a second-year graduate student pursuing a Master of Public Administration.
She also is a multicultural recruitment counselor with Southeast’s Office of Admissions, a position she advanced into after graduating from Southeast in 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in mass communication, public relations option.
“I’m originally from Mexico City, Mexico, and a first-generation college student,” a background from which she frequently draws in working with prospective students and understanding their needs as they make their college plans, she said.
Choosing an institution that is the perfect fit is a process Muñoz says she is familiar with. After graduating from high school at age 17, she decided to attend Arkansas Northeast College as a stepping- stone, knowing she eventually wanted to attend a four-year university.
While researching her options, Muñoz kept her focus on choosing an affordable communication program with comprehensive academics.
“I did some research on programs, and Southeast had the accreditations within communication and a variety of other programs,” she said. “Ultimately, because of the proximity to home, affordability and the range of programs, I decided on Southeast.”
While pursuing her undergraduate degree in mass communication, she found opportunities to thrive academically and professionally. During her senior year, she was a student recruitment intern in the Office of Admissions and, as a bilingual speaker, she assisted with recruitment initiatives in Hispanic-Latino markets, while taking an active role in launching Southeast’s En Español website.
After completing her undergraduate degree from Southeast in 2017, she saw the potential to continue the work she began as an intern and accepted a position as a Southeast admissions counselor. Last fall, she was promoted to her current position as a multicultural recruitment counselor, which inspired her to pursue her graduate degree.
“It was through this role that I witnessed firsthand the power nonprofits can have in improving communities, and I became interested in the public administration program at Southeast,” she said.
To balance her life as a full-time University employee and student, Muñoz chose a blended learning approach, enrolling in one online and one face-to-face class each semester.
“This has proven to be a unique experience since I’ve enjoyed both the traditional and nontraditional aspects of being a graduate student,” she said. “The greatest highlights I would say have been maintaining a high GPA of 3.89 while balancing a full-time job and taking advantage of the applied critical thinking opportunities.”
Muñoz says her time at Southeast, from an undergraduate student to an employee and now a graduate student, has been a rewarding experience both personally and professionally.
“I’ve become the person I wish I would’ve had in high school, to see beyond the first-generation challenges, while also understanding the cultural background and influence,” she said. “I see myself in every single one of the students I help in navigating their transition into college and have confidence they have made the right choice.
“I’ve had boundless opportunities to travel to places I never would’ve imagined like San Diego (California), Chicago (Illinois), and Puerto Rico either for college fairs or conferences,” she said. “These experiences have helped me grow as an individual and expand my network.”
Muñoz says she has found supportive and influential friends and mentors throughout her journey at Southeast.
“One of my biggest role models has been Dr. Debbie Lee-DiStefano (Southeast professor of Spanish),” Muñoz said. “She, like me, is forthcoming in expressing her first-generation background and sharing it with all her students. She persevered all the way through the education system to earn a doctorate, and, in her working role, helps students to be successful. She truly embodies the ‘Will to Do’ of Southeast and has contributed so much to the community.”
Her experiences as a first-generation student have also influenced her career in navigating the expectations of her professional role.
“Southeast has facilitated this through the boundless mentors and experiences that have propelled me forward to grow in all aspects,” she said.
Muñoz, who plans to graduate in December, hopes to, one day, run her own nonprofit organization.
“It is my vision that I will lead a nonprofit aiming to support and help Hispanic-Latinos beginning with their matriculation into universities, and later in creating successful workforce development pathways for them,” she said.