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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

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Rey Monzon Rey Monzon

In Memoriam: Rey Monzon

SDSU’s director of Student Affairs Research and Assessment was a hidden face behind the progress on some of the university’s highest priorities.
By SDSU News Team

Walking into Rey Monzon’s office on the upper floor of Student Services West eight or so years ago, statistics professor Richard Levine marveled at the whiteboard covering the wall to his left.

It was a huge flowchart in which the assessment chief had mapped out all of his statistical sources at San Diego State University: how they related to one another, how often they got updated, and how they could be put to use. A lineup of loose-leaf binders stuffed with figures sat on a file drawer nearby.

Monzon, director of Student Affairs Research and Assessment, moved offices when his position became part of Analytical Studies and Institutional Research. The whiteboard was left behind, but the expertise was not. “It was all in his head,” said Levine, who as a professor of statistics regularly drew upon Monzon’s knowledge. “He knew everything about the university data.”

Monzon, who earned a bachelor’s, master’s and joint doctoral degree at SDSU, taught classes and was a leader both in the campus and the region’s Filipino communities, died on Jan. 23. He was 63.

Michelle Lopez, SDSU assistant dean for student success, grew up on the Chula Vista street where Monzon lived as a young adult and remembers hearing his garage bands rehearse, an early indicator of a lifetime passion. She reconnected with him after she took a position in the College of Sciences and described him as “a mentor, scholar and older brother to me.”

“He was a leader in equity and inclusiveness, as evidenced by his community work,” Lopez said, “and on campus he just had a special gift, a special way about him that he could easily partner across divisions (on) student success initiatives.”

Committed to student success

Cathie Atkins, associate dean for the College of Sciences, said Monzon was regularly sought after for help in grant applications, finding the data needed to justify requests from foundations and other critical sources of outside financial support.

Perhaps more crucially, however, both Atkins and Lopez credit Monzon for understanding the meaning of the numbers he collected to assist in initiatives aimed at improving student success at SDSU, especially among underrepresented groups previously subject to high failure rates.

“He wasn’t just a data guy,” said Lopez. “He knew how to pull the data together; he knew that was just one part of the story.”

Atkins said it’s no stretch to attribute at least some of the university’s success in raising retention and graduation rates to Monzon’s analysis of datasets behind the effort.

Monzon became particularly aware of problems for students living off campus, she said, who may not have had access to as many campus-based services for student success. His findings led to a push for supplemental instruction opportunities, including the College of Science’s STEM-Start summer program, which have helped students succeed in challenging STEM courses.

“We made our biggest gains among the Latino students particularly when we developed programs specifically aimed at commuter students,” Atkins said, “and I think that was really something that Rey was behind.”

Visionary leader

Reynaldo Inocente Monzon was born in 1957 at Naval Station Sangley Point, a former U.S. base at Manila Bay in the Philippines where his father was stationed. After moving to the Bay Area in 1959 his family returned to San Diego’s Encanto neighborhood in 1964; he graduated from Montgomery High School in the South Bay in 1975.

Education was a frequent topic around the Monzon dinner table. His brother Ben said Monzon always believed “learning is a lifelong process.”

Monzon studied psychology at SDSU, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1980 and a master’s in 1984. In 2003, he completed a joint doctoral program with Claremont Graduate University in higher education research.

His doctoral dissertation on the collegiate experiences of Filipino American students and the socio-cultural factors impacting “their adjustment and persistence” foreshadowed the specialty he brought to his professional career at SDSU in 2004. His arrival followed previous research positions for the Navy Personnel Research and Development Center, the County of San Diego and the San Diego Community College District.

Monzon was a faculty adviser to AB Samahan, SDSU’s Filipino and Filipino American cultural organization. He co-founded an alumni chapter in 2012 and served as president of the organization, aimed at keeping in touch with former members of the student group.

“We're acknowledging what they've established here and we’re saying, 'We need you to continue that,’” Monzon said in an interview shortly after the alumni group was created. “We’re saying, 'You did a lot in terms of the success of the student organization and we value that and want to help continue that. We didn't forget you. We need you.'”

Lopez said Monzon was “an extraordinary, transformational, visionary leader” in the Filipino community. His work with numerous organizations included FILAMEDA, the Filipino American Educators Association of San Diego County. In 2005 the group spearheaded a drive that achieved passage of AB 420, allowing K-12 teachers to earn a credential in Filipino language instruction.

Signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the bill forestalled a threat that the classes would have been driven out of California schools under a certification provision of the No Child Left Behind Act.

A lifelong interest in music led to involvement with several bands. At the time of his death, Monzon and his wife, Glenda, comprised half of Akua Pono, playing island music at local restaurants. A year-end holiday Zoom party among SDSU institutional research employees featured a guess-the-song game across multiple decades and “Rey knew all of them,” Levine said.

The College of Education, where Monzon taught, marked his passing by naming its joint doctoral achievement award in his honor.

In addition to his wife of nearly 30 years, Glenda, Monzon is survived by his mother, Barbara; a son, Michael; a daughter, Miranda; three brothers, Ben, Marty and Ricky; and two sisters, Lisa and Leanne. He was preceded in death by his father, Leonardo, a sister, Carol, and a brother, Lenny.