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Alumni Spotlight: Juan Sánchez Muñoz, Chancellor, UC Merced

By Joanie Harmon

Urban Schooling alumnus was honored with the 2020 Cesar Estrada Chavez Award from the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity.

UCLA alumnus Juan Sánchez Muñoz (Ph.D., Urban Schooling) currently serves as Chancellor of the University of California Merced. Prior to joining the UC, he had served as president of the University of Houston-Downtown since 2017. Muñoz assumed his role as UC Merced’s fourth Chancellor on July 1, 2020. 

Muñoz’s appointment within the UC system harkens back to his California upbringing and academic roots. Prior to his time in Texas, which included serving as vice provost for undergraduate education and student affairs and senior vice president for diversity, equity and community engagement at Texas Tech University, Muñoz worked as an assistant professor at California State University, Fullerton in the Department of Secondary Education. 

During his first year at UHD, Muñoz launched the university’s largest capital campaign and led the institution’s recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey. He also presided over UHD’s increases in enrollment, retention and graduation, in addition to new degree programs including a bachelor’s degree of science in nursing and data science; awards from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for the university’s model success programs; and a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute — the only university in Texas to receive the award in 2018.

Muñoz earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from UC Santa Barbara and a master’s degree in Mexican-American Studies from California State University, Los Angeles. He was named the recipient of the 2020 Cesar Estrada Chavez Award from the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity for his leadership on workers' rights and humanitarian issues. In December 2020, Muñoz was appointed to the California Strategic Growth Council and currently serves with his wife, Zenaida Aguirre-Muñoz, Ph.D., as a council member for the Yosemite Conservancy.

“It is an honor and a privilege to lead UC Merced, a campus that distinguished itself in just 16 years as an exemplar of educational opportunity and a builder of social mobility for so many,” said Muñoz, a first-generation college graduate. “Having dedicated my career to student success and creating access to the transformational power of higher education, I’m excited to continue that work at the University of California, the nation’s premier public university system.”

Photo by Veronica Adrover/UC Merced