When Genesis Muñoz Arias was a student at Reading High School, she was introduced to Penn State Berks through the Upward Bound program, which provides support to participants in preparation for college. Now that she is graduating from Penn State Berks with a bachelor of arts in criminal justice, she is putting her degree to work to help Reading residents. She will graduate on Wednesday, Dec. 15, at the Santander Arena.
Through the criminal justice degree program, Muñoz completed an internship at Berks Connections Pretrial Services, a nonprofit organization that provides services and reentry programming for individuals involved in the justice system. After the internship ended in May 2021, she was hired as a bilingual pretrial officer, a role that involves making assessments and helping individuals to make bail and obtain resources.
Her community involvement goes beyond her new career. Muñoz was one of three Penn State Berks students who were appointed to serve on the first Reading Youth Commission in 2021. The commission is designed to give youth in Reading a platform for their concerns with city government. The 10 members must reside in the city and be between the ages of 14 and 22, and they serve without compensation for two-year terms.
Muñoz explains that a friend who works on various political campaigns in the city suggested that she apply to the Youth Commission. When asked why she wanted to join, she explained, "I want to advocate for the youth in my community and help bring the change they want to see."
She is serving on the commission’s Youth Retention Committee, and she explains that many plan to leave the city of Reading right after they graduate from high school. The committee wants to show all the opportunities that are available if they stay. Currently, she is developing a sex education program as part of an effort to promote comprehensive sex education. She is working with Councilperson Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz and her fellow commissioners on these and other efforts.
Muñoz comments that her interest in community service began at Penn State Berks. “I took a first-year seminar that focused on community service where we were able to work on various projects in the city of Reading. It showed me that my purpose is to give back and serve the community.”
Through the first-year seminar, she got to know community organizations, like Barrio Alegria, which uses the arts to create transformations in individuals to help them transform their communities. She even worked as a dance instructor for the Barrio Alegria for a while.
“Penn State Berks helped me find my passion to give back to the community through the first-year seminar. I moved to Reading from New York with my family in 2012, and even though I lived in the city for seven years, I learned so much more about Reading in the course. I knew that I wanted to make the community better and to be a part of the change.” She went on to become a mentor for the same first-year seminar course.
Muñoz credits first-year seminar instructor Alexa Hodge with igniting that passion. Hodge also serves as coordinator of Student Support Services, the Aspiring Scholars Program, and the Pathway to Success: Summer Start program.
Muñoz actually began her Penn State Berks journey before the first-year seminar in her first fall semester. She began taking courses through the college’s Pathways to Success: Summer Start (PaSSS) program, which allows invited first-year students to get a head start on their Penn State education. The program awards all selected participants a scholarship of $2,000 for enrollment in two summer classes. The following year, Muñoz became a mentor for the program.
She states that she had an opportunity to explore a lot of different interests during her time at Penn State Berks. According to Muñoz, one course that made an impact on her was a women’s studies course taught by Lauren Jade Martin, associate professor of sociology and program chair of for the criminal justice degree.
During her time at the college, Muñoz worked as a teaching and research assistant for Ebonie Cunningham Stringer, assistant professor of criminal justice. Together they submitted research papers to two conferences and will be presenting at another conference in the near future.
In addition, Muñoz received the Penn State Undergraduate Exhibition Award for Research, Inquiry and Creative Activity in 2021, along with fellow student Salvatore DeFeo. They took first place in oral presentation and performance for their presentation titled “Undergraduate Student Perspectives on Gender and Social Support for Criminal Justice Careers.”
Making the most of her college experience, Muñoz was very active on campus, serving as president of Latinos United for Change, a student organization; a volunteer for the Penn State Educational Partnership program, a partnership between Penn State Berks and Reading High School; and serving as the community engagement officer for the Student Government Association. In addition, she was a member of the Step Team and held a job in the Campus Life office. For all her involvement, she received the Campus Life Rising Star award.
In addition, Muñoz was the 2021 Howard O., Jr., and Jean S. Beaver Award for Community Service award recipient. The award honors a student for their distinguished contributions through community service.
She explains that the faculty and staff at Penn State Berks were a big part of her success. “I just want to express my appreciation for the faculty and staff who believed in me and supported me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”
For Munoz, her journey will come full circle when she graduates on Dec. 15.