UHD News invites our readers to the first edition of “Five Questions,” a new feature written by University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) News Gator Correspondents.
Recently, Gator correspondent Evelyn Garcia, a junior English major and Honors Program student, interviewed Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz, president of the University of Houston-Downtown.
Although Muñoz has been focused on helping UHD continue to recover from the repercussions of Harvey, he took some time from his day to discuss the campus’ recovery and his goals for the University.
Garcia: President Muñoz, how was the UHD campus able to recover so quickly after Hurricane Harvey?
Muñoz: Well, I think we have a lot of really talented people in place that are familiar with how to address this particular kind of issue. They prepared very well following Tropical Storm Allison and developed some protective measures, including generators in campus buildings, and migrating electronic systems, so there wasn’t a complete breakdown of communication. Having very talented people who anticipated this kind of severe event helped us do well. We have great people, great expertise, and a great commitment to get the University operational as quickly as possible.
Garcia: How have you adapted to UHD compared to other university campuses where you have worked?
Muñoz: I’ve worked at a number of campuses as a faculty member, including one in Texas for over 12 years. I think I’m acclimating very well. This campus is not as large as some other institutions, but it makes for an easier, more intimate and hospitable place to learn. You’re able to meet people very easily, and you see them regularly. I love it here. I couldn’t feel more welcome. There’s a real southern hospitality to Houston and to UHD. I enjoy the city. I just discovered a new burger place that’s very close, and cheeseburgers are their specialty. I have an affinity for cheeseburgers (laughing). The people are wonderful. It’s different in a very lovely way. I can’t get to work fast enough in the morning.
Garcia: What are some of your immediate goals for now?
Muñoz: First, we need to complete the remediation from the storm. We have a number of displaced departments. Some shipping and receiving services and our Police Department have been relocated, so we need to completely repair those areas to get people back into their permanent offices. We also have to complete the Academic Calendar. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has directed us if at all possible not to adjust the end of the semester. So, we’ve got to catch up to about a week or week and a half. Retaining our students and faculty is a priority. We have faculty, students and staff that were all affected by the storm. With those individuals in mind, we hired an emergency response specialist, Ruama Camp, who will support members of our community affected by the storm. We want everyone to be back continuing the semester, ending the semester strong.
Garcia: What do you do when you are not here at UHD?
Muñoz: I have two boys, a 17-year-old (Cruz) and an 11-year-old (Amado) still at home, and four days a week I’m with them doing something sports-related, mostly baseball or football right now. But my boys and I also like to hunt and fish. We love the outdoors.
My wife and I appreciate art, and we try to visit museums as often as possible. Recently, my 11-year-old and I saw my compadre, astronaut Joe Acaba, take off to space through a live feed at Johnson Space Center. He took off in the Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station from a launch site in Kazakhstan where he’ll be there for six months.
There’s a lot to do in Houston, but mostly, I like to spend time with my family.
Garcia: What is the single piece of advice that you would give to a UHD student?
Muñoz: Don’t make long-term choices because of short-term problems. Keep the long game in mind. Adversity doesn’t always build character. In some cases it reveals character.
A diamond before it’s a diamond is a lump of coal, and the difference is pressure. I’m a strong proponent of persisting in the face of great pressure. When you do that…really precious things result. There is always adversity; there is always Harvey; there’s always Irma; and there’s always loss. Things in our life can be difficult, but they often result in temporary problems and being resilient and resolute almost always leads to better options. I have met students who want to leave school because of Harvey. They want to help their parents. They think that leaving school will help their parents, but graduating college will allow them to help their parents and families a lot more and for a lot longer. That’s the advice I would give to them. Stay in school and finish … finish strong to be of greater service to your family and to others.