Paying it forward with purpose

portrait of a young person in a suit

Kyle Muña ’21 (HD) credits his experience at the College of Human Ecology with helping him find his purpose in life — and right now that means helping high school students in Lancaster, PA, find their purpose.

Muña is a fellow and the senior program lead for ATTOLLO PREP, a nonprofit organization focused on supporting high-achieving, diverse high school students in Lancaster. He works as a mentor and develops and implements programs that help prepare ATTOLLO high school seniors — many of them first-generation college prospects — for the future.

“We focus on social engagement, academic excellence and empowerment,” Muña said. “It’s a job that brings me a lot of joy and purpose. I get excited about building relationships with students and helping them get to where they want to go. We are really trying to understand who they are, what their goals are, and how they are thinking about the future.”

That means offering a wide range of support such as one-on-one help with college applications, scholarship and financial aid workshops, and sessions exploring what it means to be a first-generation college student.

I also really fell in love with the College of Human Ecology and its focus on people and their well-being.

Kyle Muña '21

It’s a journey that is familiar to Muña, who graduated from Cornell less than a year ago. As a high-achieving high school senior himself, Muña knew he wanted to attend college, but thought he would stay close to home in Washington State. “I myself am a first-generation college student,” he explained. “I grew up in a community where college was encouraged, but it wasn’t necessarily the norm.”

Then Muña attended a college fair at a hotel in his hometown and was captivated by the Cornell philosophy of "Any person...any study."

“I also really fell in love with the College of Human Ecology and its focus on people and their well-being,” he said.

Once at Cornell, Muña focused on building community, initially through the Pre-Freshman Summer Program (PSP) and later by becoming involved in several of Cornell’s dance teams. Although Muña began with a pre-med focus and a goal of becoming a pediatrician, he eventually changed his focus to education.

students sitting in a row mimicking a statue's pose

Kyle Muña '21 with PRYDE Scholars and students from ATTOLLO Prep on campus.

His junior year, Muña was selected as a scholar in the Program for Research on Youth Development and Engagement (PRYDE), a two-year program that connects Cornell undergraduate students with social and behavioral scientists to develop new and innovative interventions that benefit 4-H youth and their communities.

Through PRYDE, Muña analyzed data exploring who young people believe can have “good” ideas, created a social science research curriculum surrounding “positive youth development” and developed an asset map related to the idea of adolescent self-expression.

“PRYDE gave me the tools to understand from a research lens what it means to ask questions, gather data and build partnerships,” he said. “I learned what community-engaged learning really means. In my job today, our entire mission is centered on community-engaged impact.

“I couldn’t have done any of this without my mentors Verdene Lee, Gary Evans, Anthony Burrow and Kristen Elmore,” Muña said. “They taught me what it means to be a mentor, supported me in figuring out what I wanted to do after college, and helped me craft a vision for myself and find a career that would fulfill my sense of purpose.”