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Student combines business and nonprofit expertise to help greater good

Alayna head and shoulders

Alayna Muñoz ’23 looks back at her internship with Special Olympics and connects the dots to where she is today and where she plans to go. After high school, the native of Columbia, Maryland, enrolled in York College of Pennsylvania as part of its Presidential Research Fellowship Program, with her heart set on exploring a topic she’s always been passionate about.

Together with her advisor, Dr. Amanda Rich, Associate Professor of Behavioral Science and Sociology, she’s studying how nonprofits serve people with intellectual or developmental disabilities and how they use input from those communities to shape the direction of their organization.

“Special Olympics used input from athletes in how they ran their organization,” Muñoz says. “Talking directly to athletes to learn their needs and whether they are being met helps the organization’s decision-making.”

Muñoz plans to compare this approach with how other groups use input from people they serve, then look at what services lead to better outcomes.

Maximizing skillsets

When she started at York College, Muñoz began as a Social Enterprise and Not-for-Profit Management major, but after discussions with her advisor, she felt Supply Chain Operations Management was a better fit with her skill set.

“I’m good at math and am goal-oriented, which works well with supply chains, and I enjoy working with people, which applies to both areas,” she says. “These are both within the field of business. I can use the knowledge from business courses and apply it to nonprofit organizations.” 

Rich says there’s a connection between supply chains and operations with serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“How we bring scale to services for people with disabilities is a supply chain issue,” she says. “How you get a well-trained workforce that’s paid enough to provide these services and how you reshape existing organizations to provide these services differently are important issues supply chain management can help answer.”

Unique opportunity

Muñoz believes the Presidential Research Fellowship provided by York College, which covers her tuition and fees, provides a unique opportunity for this important research, and it’s a big reason she chose the school.

“This is a four-year research project, and at York College it is very dynamic. I can shape the research around my interests,” she says. “The student/faculty relationship here is distinct. Dr. Rich shares my passion and excitement, and working with someone who cares and supports me is important.”

Rich also developed her interest in nonprofits serving people with disabilities through Special Olympics by observing a family member who participated in this organization, agrees York College offers a special opportunity.

“The level of communication and collaboration between students and faculty is unique,” she says. “Many faculty came to York College to work closely with students and impact people.”

Putting research into action

Muñoz is focusing on choosing an organization to study and gathering data for now, but she believes this unique research opportunity will serve her career goals.

“How a business uses inclusion, finding ways for employees and people you serve to have input, is important for any business in making decisions,” she says.

Muñoz also hopes her work impacts society beyond the walls of academia.

“I hope in the future these nonprofit organizations are inclusive and receptive to feedback from the intellectual disability community in fulfilling their needs,” she says, “and not just what those running these groups perceive to be their needs.”