Former Student Assembly Staffer Creates Higher-Ed Reform Organization
With less than a year until graduation, Rey Muniz III left his role as chief of staff for the SUNY Student Assembly for a new project: the New York Institute for Higher Education Advocacy.
“I would love to see this become sustainable and move far beyond me,” he said. “I want this to be bigger and better than I will ever be.”
NYIHEA is a month-old nonprofit group established to bring about progressive reforms in higher education throughout the state. The group, which will officially launch this coming week, currently houses a staff of 15 and has policy advisors throughout the state.
After many conversations with friends over several months, Muniz decided to leave his position as chief of staff for the SUNY SA to establish NYIHEA — an entity he believes would better allow him to make political endorsements and contributions while lobbying for policy for the state’s two million collegiate students.
Muniz, 23, said college institutions are vital economic drivers, with many throughout the state being the largest employers in its respected communities. As a result, Muniz found that state legislatures are inclined to discuss issues important to these campuses, which is where he sees NYIHEA fitting in.
By partnering with individual student governments throughout the state, Muniz aims to assess the legislative needs of the campus community, before streamlining the legislative process by setting up the meetings and drafting policy. Then, according to Muniz, it’s a matter of stepping aside and letting student leaders represent their constituents.
“I have a pretty aggressive travel schedule,” said Muniz who would like to meet with the student
governments on every SUNY and CUNY campus by Feb. 1, to establish connections and better
understand the legislative needs of these communities.
Muniz hopes to have 15 legislatives policies drafted by the start of the upcoming legislative session, policies he says are likely to include issues pertaining to campus safety and drug overdose, food insecurity, sustainability initiatives, and campus diversity.
Fascinated by government and policy his entire life, Muniz, who grew up in the Chautauqua County, has been a member of the SUNY SA for nearly five years. He served as SUNY SA’s director of Legislative Affairs, a role that allowed him to begin to see the impact his work could have on students.
This past spring, Muniz, alongside mental health professionals and members of the state legislature, worked to create the Student Telecounseling Network, a program designed to alleviate pressures on counseling centers throughout the SUNY system.
The result: a $300,000 investment from the state to establish a five-campus pilot program to be rolled out in the coming weeks.
“I realized then, without delay, that I needed to focus on doing real things, on making real things happen,” he said.