Take a closer look at the small, handmade nativity set on the shelf. Draped in the Puerto Rican flag, the Christ child is attended by Mary, Joseph and the Three Wise Men — as well as a lamb, a chicken, a parrot and two frogs. Perhaps this isn’t what many people consider a traditional manger scene, but all the figures have special meanings in the professor’s native land.
This is especially true of ceramic frogs perched by the manger. As the professor tells it, the tiny frog known as the coquí is found only in Puerto Rico, and so has become a beloved national symbol. It got its name, so the story goes, from the sound of its evening serenade of calls of “Co-kee! Co-kee!” To Puerto Ricans, the frog’s resilience, or as it is said, “Small island, small frog, BIG voice!”
The professor in question is none other than Sandra Vera-Muñoz!
In 2017, Sandra Vera-Muñoz watched the news anxiously as Hurricane Maria approached Puerto Rico.
Her mother, Maria Magaña-Vera, then 94, was a native of El Salvador in Central America. She still lived in Bayamón, a mid-sized city about 9 miles southwest of San Juan, in the home where she raised her family.
The ensuing hurricane wreaked extensive damage across the island and left Maria without power or running water for months. Vera-Muñoz pleaded with her mother, who has difficulty with mobility, to travel to Indiana to stay with her. The answer — a firm no. Puerto Rico was home. And Maria was determined to stay.
Vera-Muñoz conceded there was a good deal of stubbornness in her mom’s decision. But more than that, it reflected a bone-deep pride of heritage and place. That same pride in being from Puerto Rico is evident in all corners of the associate accountancy professor’s office in Mendoza — from the Puerto Rican flag, to the themed nativity set, to the many mementos of the island’s special traditions and places.
“These artifacts from Puerto Rico are meaningful to me because they remind me every day of how blessed my life journey has been,” said Vera-Muñoz.” It all started in my childhood home in Puerto Rico, where my parents raised my siblings and me in the Catholic faith. My family’s most important and memorable Christmas tradition was setting up our Nativity scene, with clay figurines of the blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and Baby Jesus that my mom had brought from her home country. My mom’s devotion to the Virgin Mary helped her and my brother through their most challenging times after Hurricane Maria hit the island.”
Vera-Muñoz, who joined Notre Dame in 1994, has expertise in sustainability accounting and reporting, impact investing, and strategic cost management. Her research focuses on climate risk disclosures and assurance, and judgment and decision making. Among her many awards and recognitions, she was named to the 2021 Notre Dame All-Faculty Team in recognition of her spirit of service and academic accomplishments.
In 2022, she received the Mendoza Mission Research Award, an annual recognition of Mendoza research papers that exemplify the College’s imperative to “Grow the Good in Business” For her research, “Climate-Risk Materiality and Firm Risk" (Review of Accounting Studies, in press). She also received the Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C. Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2022.