Mentor helps student achieve career, life dreams
When Dawson Muñoz was taking classes at South Plains College, he was part of a program sponsored by the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce.
Focus Lubbock, as it was known, was designed to prepare college students in the South Plains for roles in public service and leadership.
One day, all the participants were taken to a gymnasium and told to imagine the floor was a world map and stand where they expected to work one day.
Virtually everyone in the group — most of them aspiring professionals, many with political ambitions — gathered within the area designated as the United States.
Muñoz started walking. And walking. And walking some more.
“I walked all the way across the gym and I just stood there all by myself,” he recalls. “They went through everybody and asked what they wanted to be. And when they got to me, I said I wanted to be an international entrepreneur, and I’m here in Spain conducting international business.”
Six years later — thanks to both his own persistence and some sage guidance from Texas State professor Pat Pattison, a professor in the Department of Finance and Economics at the McCoy College of Business Administration — he’s there.
Muñoz graduated from Texas State with bachelor of business administration in finance in May. In September, he will begin 9½-month Fulbright fellowship in Spain, helping teach at a secondary school and working on a research project about small business development.
More than 300,000 people have received grants from the William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board in the program’s 60-year history, including heads of state, ambassadors, judges, university professors and CEOs of major companies. Forty-three of them have been awarded Nobel Prizes.
“It’s a dream come true,” Muñoz says of the fellowship.
It came in part because of his relationship with Pattison. She was paired with Muñoz in the Texas State Mentoring Program when he arrived on campus, and their bond grew even after the official mentoring period — one academic year — was done.
During his junior year at Texas State, Pattison sent Muñoz an e-mail about the program, which identifies promising students and provides them with opportunities to teach and do research outside the United States.
At the time, Muñoz was preparing for a summer internship, and he saved the e-mail but didn’t explore it further. When the internship ended later that summer, he took 2½ weeks to travel around Europe, winding up in Barcelona, Spain.
“The people were great and the whole experience there was just awesome,” says Muñoz. “I figured there had to be a way I could go back, to work and live there.”
It dawned him when he got home that he did indeed have that opportunity — through the Fulbright grant. He sought and received the necessary recommendations from members of the McCoy College faculty, wrote the required essays and submitted his application.
“Getting recommendations from the professors just made me love McCoy that much more,” Muñoz says. “There are all these professors who care about you and want you to succeed. That was one of the other reasons I wanted to get the grant; they spent so much time doing recommendations for me, it’s just cool to come back and tell them I got it.”
Not long before he graduated, he received word that he had been accepted. He will spend the 2011-12 academic year teaching and doing research on local businesses in the northern Spanish region of Cantabria.
Getting the Fulbright grant was the culmination of four years at Texas State that Muñoz called the best of his life.
Pattison was a big part of it. She helped Muñoz — a first-generation college student and a member of the Texas National Guard who spent a year in Iraq — not only find his way at Texas State, but strike a balance.
“Pat has been an awesome influence here at Texas State,” he says. “I remember getting this e-mail, ‘Do you want a mentor?’ And it could have been anybody. It could have been another college student. And then she e-mailed me and said, ‘I’m here on campus if you want to meet up at the LBJ Center.’ And here I’m waiting and here comes this little lady.”
She took him on a tour of the LBJ Student Center the first time they met — and more.
“When I started mentoring, I was thinking, ‘Feed ‘em,’” she says. “Kids want to eat. And so what I’ve always done is I say, ‘OK, I’ll take you out to lunch once a week.’ And so they’ll show up for the lunch and we’ll get to know each other.”
She introduced him to professors and helped him choose a major. She helped him build a wardrobe suited to a finance major (“More polo shirts and less tight T-shirts and military pants,” she says with a laugh). She even encouraged him to get out and enjoy college life, rather than spend all his free time studying.
He wound up rushing a fraternity, developing an interest in golf and tennis, and taking part in campus organizations from Associated Student Government to the Financial Management Association.
And everything, in one way or another, followed a suggestion that Pattison offered early in their relationship: Make sure you stay on your path.
“His personal story emphasizes the fact that he wants to give back, he wants to help people overcome the things he had to overcome,” she says. “It’s the kind of story that people say makes them want to come to the United States. People say they want to do something, and nothing can stop them.”