Personalized learning the highlight of Muñiz’s College of Education experience

December 03, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Raquel Muñiz decided early in the process of earning her doctorate from Penn State's College of Education that instead of solving problems in the classroom, she’d be better off thinking about those problems at the system level.

After receiving her joint juris doctor and doctorate in educational theory and policy from Penn State in 2018, Muñiz has initiated that procedure.

Raquel Muñiz

Raquel Muñiz

IMAGE: Photo provided

The Laredo, Texas, native said she’s always been interested in the education system and what that system can do to help vulnerable populations. Her degree in mathematics from Texas A&M International University provided her with the critical thinking skills she was hoping to hone, and she opted to pursue advanced law and education degrees at Penn State.

“Penn State was very generous with their scholarships, and the law school offered me a full tuition merit scholarship,” Muñiz said. “The College of Education provided me with multiple sources of scholarships and fellowships. I didn’t pay tuition out of pocket, and I did have my graduate assistantship. I was working at Upward Bound.”

She said the scholarships and fellowships meant everything to her as she began graduate school. “Being able to have that support from the College of Ed meant that I could actually attend the courses and keep on track to be able to finish by the time I wanted to finish and plan out accordingly,” she said.

Muñiz started at Penn State Law in 2014 and began her doctoral quest in 2015. “I was able to combine work for both and graduate in May 2018,” she said.

"Through research, I came across the law; it’s a little unconventional," added Muñiz. Through my research I was like ‘oh, the law sets the structures in our society and governs a lot of what we do, including in education and within the family unit.’”

That research in law school led her to pursue both a law degree and her doctorate.

Now a second-year, tenure-track assistant professor and liaison to the law school at Boston College (BC), Muñiz teaches law and education policy for BC’s Lynch School of Education.

“Boston College is research intensive and I was used to it because Penn State prepared me,” Muñiz said.

At Penn State, her adviser was Mindy Kornhaber, associate professor of education (educational theory and policy), who holds Muñiz in the highest regard.

“The words exceptional, outstanding, brilliant and amazing fall short in describing Raquel Muñiz,” Kornhaber said. “Why? Raquel is a top-notch thinker and scholar.”

Kornhaber said Muñiz submitted a draft of her dissertation proposal in 2017. Kornhaber responded with a “bunch of suggestions” and within a few hours Muñiz had “substantively revised, improved and resubmitted it,” according to Kornhaber.

“I have never seen anyone — neither faculty nor student — who is able to turn work around both faster and more effectively than Raquel,” she said. “It was some kind of magic trick that I have yet to figure out, even though I’d seen her do variations of it multiple times. And she operated like this while also juggling responsibilities at the Law School’s Center for Immigrant Rights, serving as editor for the Arbitration Law Review, organizing a monthly task force with a state legislator to advance policy on trauma-informed education and working with Erica Frankenberg on civil rights research."

She also told the amusing tale of how Muñiz ended up landing at BC. “While in line for the hot buffet at Division L’s business meeting during the 2017 AERA (American Educational Research Association) annual meeting, I overheard another attendee talk about the search he was heading at BC for a policy person interested in law and equity,” Kornhaber said. “I interrupted and said ‘I know the ideal candidate.’”

“I shared Raquel’s name and by the time I got back to my hotel room to email Raquel about this encounter, Professor Vincent Cho of BC’s Lynch School of Education had already contacted her. So that’s some interesting history,” Kornhaber said, “but what will be more interesting is Raquel’s future.”

Muñiz said a lot of the work she’s done thus far is broadly defined. “But I do a lot of work around immigrant populations and undocumented and documented students and trying to look at the structural barriers that are created,” she said.

She said she recently led a study of policy of inclusion in higher education — an analysis of policies at every flagship institution in the United States to determine how these policies are actually helping inclusivity or not.

“We have found five different types of inclusivity," she said. "I was surprised because a lot of the time undocumented students have to go under the radar to find the resources they need; the resources are not very vocalized or out there for the most part. We did find there was a lot more support than we anticipated."

Support is something she is quick to point out she had while at Penn State. “I liked the advisee/adviser models they had. That’s what stood out to me the most because I worked very, very closely with my adviser (Kornhaber), who took a very holistic approach to advising,” Muñiz said. “Not only academics but how are other areas of my life impacting that.

“That was something that was encouraged through the college, and just the accessibility of the professors was something that stood out. I never felt hesitant that I couldn’t go. They were very open and supportive when it came to their students. I appreciated that kind of structure.”

She said María Schmidt, assistant dean for multicultural programs, helped her identify sources of funding, and Muñiz also cited Dana Mitra, professor of education, and Katerina Bodovski, associate professor of education, for assisting her while she was in the program.

“What stands out the most was the humanity, that holistic approach to graduate school education that I think might be unique,” said Muñiz, who said “paying it forward” is on her radar.

“I would like to express my gratitude," she said. "It was the College of Education, and there was collaboration between the law school and the College of Education. It was very personalized learning. That’s what I felt was the experience."

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 03, 2019