Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.
The signs were always there for Melissa Munguia. A job as a certified nursing assistant dealing with life and death issues at an assisted living home. Search and rescue missions as a member of the Texas State Guard. And then, as she was researching a large scale dam failure as a maritime studies senior at Texas A&M in Galveston, Munguia realized what all the signs were pointing toward.
“I don’t want to say I fell into it, but all of my paths led me to emergency management,” Munguia said. “I've always been a person that stays very calm during an emergency.”
At the age of 31, Munguia (pronounced moon-GEE-uh) is the spring 2017 outstanding graduate for the College of Public Service and Community Solutions in downtown Phoenix. She is already putting her master’s degree in emergency management and homeland security to use. Munguia recently started as the deputy coordinator of the Emergency Management Office for Nueces County in Corpus Christi, Texas.
After high school, the Austin, Texas native became a certified nursing assistant at a senior home.
“You have a lot of elderly people that have heart conditions and strokes and fall down, it happens quite often,” Munguia said. “That’s kind of where I developed my passion for response.”
Munguia learned that saving lives could depend on how quickly you respond. But, she couldn’t save everyone.
“It took a toll on me after, you know, three and a half years of doing it,” Munguia said. “I built relationships with every single one of them. It was like losing a grandparent over and over again.”
She credits friends and family with giving her the confidence to enroll and succeed in college.
“I have had my moments in time where I didn't believe in myself for things that I could succeed or accomplish what everybody else was,” she noted. “And it took me time engrossed in a network of people that helped me believe in myself. And as soon as that happened my life started to change.”
Munguia is a member of the Texas National Guard, serving as a research and rescue technician and diver on several rescue missions along the U.S./Mexico border. She volunteers with Red Cross Disaster Services, ready to deploy on a moment’s notice.
She took an unpaid internship with the Bexar County Office of Emergency Management helping educate the public about the importance of disaster preparedness. Munguia volunteered with a San Antonio nonprofit helping homeless people acquire documents needed to establish their identify and qualify for services. And she’s worked in shelters for Central American kids who are refugees detained after crossing the border.
“Both of these experiences motivated me to create a project that will change the death toll on U.S. soil,” Munguia said. “I think it is important not only to protect our border but to prevent the death of those who have made it across.”
To that end, she is working with the South Texas Human Rights Center, Border Patrol, local ranchers and a Sheriff’s office to build strategically placed shelters for people in crisis to escape the sweltering summer heat. Each shelter contains first aid materials, snacks and water.
“Melissa is a perfect example of the kind of student we have in our graduate programs who is absolutely committed to public service,” said Brian Gerber, an associate professor in the College of Public Service and Community Solutions and director of the Emergency Management and Homeland Security program at Arizona State University. “She is a great example of the kind of high-quality person that makes profoundly important contributions to her community and the nation as a whole.”
While she has served her community and nation, she has also helped her husband care for his mother who has Alzheimer’s. Her mother-in-law moved in with them a year ago. Munguia admits It isn’t easy juggling work, school and other commitments with helping provide 24/7 care.
“Everything about my life has changed,” Munguia admitted. “Although it has been a tremendous challenge, it has taught me things about myself that in the long run have made me a stronger person.”
Munguia isn’t done with learning. She plans to become a Certified Emergency Manager and obtain advanced professional series certifications from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.