Ohio Wesleyan LASER Mentor: Jocelyne Muñoz

Jocelyne Muñoz with Tanzanian students

When The Ohio State University’s LASER (Latino and Latin American Space for Enrichment and Research) was founded on the Columbus campus in 2009 by Dr. Frederick Aldama, he envisioned a mentoring program that could be expanded to other universities. Housed in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, in 2013 and 2014, LASER expanded to include high school mentor program chapters at Ohio State Mansfield, Otterbein University, and Ohio Wesleyan University (OWU).

It was during her first year at Ohio Wesleyan that Jocelyne Muñoz learned about the LASER Program through a fellow student who had worked with others to create a chapter at Ohio Wesleyan. Through LASER, Jocelyne had the opportunity to mentor a student, a Hispanic high school freshman. As a mentor, Jocelyne helped the student set short-term goals for high school and long-term goals for college and beyond. Jocelyne wanted her mentee to be confident in knowing that he could attend college and that he could thrive. “We addressed various areas such as how to prepare and be a suitable candidate for college by making the most of his time in high school, by gaining different studying skills, and most importantly, by believing in himself.”

“I would like to leave the world I lived in a better place, and I hope to do so through my actions and the career I pursue.”

The experience as a mentor was one that Jocelyne enjoyed, saying that she is more than happy to mentor others, or serve as a resource or even a friend. For Jocelyne, becoming a LASER mentor was an opportunity to help fellow Latinos reach their greatest potential. She tried to put herself in the student's shoes, thinking about how it would have been helpful to know what she now knows, such as when to apply to college, when to take the SAT/ACT, how to fill out the FAFSA, what are AP tests, and other information that can be essential. “Applying for college is a process that is less intimidating if high school students have support. I know there were words of advice that would have been helpful to hear when I was in high school and considering going to college,” she said. “Taking time out of my schedule to serve in LASER, I was motivated to see fellow Latinos excel in such a competitive environment, because one's background should not be the determining factor of whether or not they attain higher education,” she continued.

In addition to being a LASER mentor, while at Ohio Wesleyan, Jocelyne had the chance to travel through the Theory-To-Practice Grant Program. Jocelyne travelled to Tanzania with a fellow classmate and Professor Ali Skandor from Ohio Wesleyan’s Black World Studies Program to learn about the culture of the Maasai. The trio researched how the Maasai continued to survive living a semi-nomadic life and how they remained healthy, with little heart disease, despite a high fat diet and, in many cases, childhood malnutrition within the villages. They also volunteered at Idimayii, a nursery school, assisting the English teachers and building positive relationships with the Maasai children. In addition, they explored the biocultural landscape as an effective system to preserve culture and improve the livelihood as practiced by the Maasai and other nomadic pastoral communities. Connecting with the Maasai was easy: “Although we were looking at various topics, we made links despite the cultural and language barriers.”

Jocelyne also participated in The Ohio StateJocelyne Muñoz at COSI with protective glasses on Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU): The Science of Language and the Language of Science Summer Program. She was paired with an Ohio State University faculty member, Professor Shari R. Speer from the Department of Linguistics, on a project to further understand language comprehension using an eye-tracker method to focus on the role of prosody (the patterns of stress and intonation in a language). “Through this REU experience and as a Research Assistant on the project, I am carrying out research techniques, working alongside role models, connecting to the public, contributing to the curiosity of colleagues, and working toward answers.”

In addition to working on research projects, Jocelyne was able to study abroad through the Salamanca Program at the University of Salamanca in Spain with a cultural submersion into the history, language, art, culture, and literature of that country. “Overall, this study abroad opened doors to a unique life experience while empowering me for future academic endeavors. Being in another country encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and to gain a greater sense of independence.”

Set to graduate in 2017, the double major in Spanish and Microbiology says that her aspirations beyond Ohio Wesleyan are not set in stone, that as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Jocelyne does acknowledge the importance of having goals and is confident about furthering her education. “I would like to attend graduate and/or medical school because within me is a passion to learn – but more importantly – to use my skills and education for service and for the benefit of others.” Jocelyne is also certain about what such a degree will bring: “After earning a Bachelor’s, I would like to become a figure in the biological sciences. The opportunities are limitless: research to prevent diseases, medicine, therapy, becoming a surgeon, serving in the United States or in developing countries.”

As a Mexican-American, Jocelyne is proud to represent and carry with pride her ancestor's names. “Knowing my parent's hard work and sacrifices so that I could have a better life is what motivates me. As clichéd as it may sound to some, to me, I am a clear example of the so-called American Dream. I would like to leave the world I lived in a better place, and I hope to do so through my actions and the career I pursue. I will do so as a Latina, as a woman, as a figure in the field of science, as a volunteer, as an innovator, as a sorority woman, as a student, I will do so as Jocelyne Lizetthe Muñoz.”