First-generation college student, second-generation healer
This spring, CU Denver unveiled a large-scale art installation painted by world-renowned artist Detour that shines a spotlight on the achievements of the university's alumni. This article is part of a series that examines the experiences of the alumni featured in the mural.
For William Mundo, a first-generation college student and first-generation American, watching his father provide medical care in his hometown of Acapulco, Mexico was what inspired him to pursue a career as a doctor.
In high school, when Mundo “discovered what college was,” he turned to his father for advice. He asked his father where he’d gone to college and medical school. “That’s when he told me that he hadn’t even graduated from high school.”
Mundo, a 2022 Doctor of Medicine candidate with a master’s degree in Public Health in 2018, who completed his undergraduate degree at CU Denver in Ethnic Studies and Public Health in 2016, didn’t have the luxury of a roadmap on his journey toward a career in healthcare. But his experience at CU Denver didn’t just enable him to achieve his goals — it changed his view of medicine’s role in our society.
When we think about health, we think about going to the doctor. But health also means having access to food, shelter, and employment.
At CU Denver, Mundo began his studies in biology — “like every other pre-med student” — but it was an academic experience in another field that changed his perspective. He took the course “Race, Ethnicity, and Social Justice,” which introduced him to the concept of public health, and to the difference that medicine can make in communities like the one he grew up in.
Understanding the relationship between health, equity, and identity was eye-opening for Mundo. He always knew he wanted to pursue a career in medicine, “but it was at CU Denver where I learned what type of doctor I wanted to be.”
Mundo’s time at CU Denver was not without challenges. He struggled during his first year. His father passed away, and he felt the pressure of being a first-generation college student. Fortunately, Will discovered the power of CU Denver’s student support system.
The Center for Identity & Inclusion, which provides Latinx student services, helped Mundo gain a better understanding of himself. “They embraced me and made me aware of how others’ perceptions may play out in my life.”
This sense of belonging motivated William. “There are people here who care about you, who will push you through the challenges you’re facing.” For William, this turned CU Denver into something more than a place to earn a degree. “When
you come here, you don’t just become a student. You become part of this community, which is something that stays with you,” he says.
Mundo’s CU Denver experience has made a lasting impact on him. “During my time here, I wrote a lot about my experiences,” he says. “A couple of years ago, I looked back at all of these essays and put them together into a book, From Margins to Medicine.” The book traces Will’s journey from his time growing up in a medically underserved community to becoming a doctor, as well as his growing interest in public health.
Now, William hopes that his representation in the murals will inspire the first-generation students who will come to CU Denver in the future.
As a person of color, as a Mexican man, being selected [for the] mural has been empowering. I hope that it encourages other first-generation students to pursue a career in healthcare, and that it serves as a reminder that at CU Denver, representation truly matters.