First-generation WMU graduate adapts to changing career outlook

Contact: Megan Looker
A WMU alumnus stands in front of a sign that reads "Faces of Meijer."

Joseph Sánchez, aviation management and operations graduate

PLAINFIELD, Ill.—In a time of rushes on toilet paper and concerned shoppers hoarding meat, it takes a true leader to keep a grocery store running during a pandemic. At the helm of Meijer’s Plainfield, Ill. location stands Western Michigan University 2020 graduate, Joseph Sánchez.

“I feel very fortunate to have a full-time job out of college,” says Sánchez, a first-generation college graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree in aviation management and operations, with a minor in general business. He says it was WMU’s third largest aviation program in the country with 80 years of experience that first lured him to campus for a tour. 

“I instantly fell in love with campus, and it just felt like the right school for me. I wanted an out-of-state experience, while being close to home.”

Serving as student body president of the Western Student Association, Sánchez says connections he made with senior leadership across campus helped shape the start of his job search, opening his eyes to the breadth of career options at his fingertips.

“These connections helped me understand that although I was in the field of aviation, I could still pursue other career goals that are of interest to me.”

Sánchez says at a career fair through WMU’s Career and Student Employment Services he connected with Meijer his junior year. He started working as a store operations intern, where he forged connections with his store director and worked on a project to reduce shrink and increase sales.

After graduation, Sánchez found himself struggling to find a job in the aviation industry amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has battered airlines with a 96% drop in air travel. Airlines for America reports the drop in passengers and stay-at-home orders across the country have caused airlines to cut 71% of their capacity, spelling a dismal career outlook. However, Sánchez says his education at WMU prepared him to be flexible.

“While retail is completely different from aviation, it’s still related to business. I chose the aviation management major because I also really enjoy general business,” he says.

When it came time to broaden his horizons, he knew just where to go. Meijer hired Sánchez as a team leader. He now manages around 25 team members at his store, focusing on everything from customer service to reaching store goals.

“Leading others and working with a team is what I like the most,” he says. “It isn’t just work to me, but more about helping others develop skills, gaining management experience and learning how great teamwork impacts results.”


As the son of two immigrants from Mexico, Sánchez says a college education wasn’t a given growing up. He’s one of four children, and the youngest of his siblings.

“[My parents] didn’t know what their kids would accomplish upon immigrating to the United States,” he says. “Being that my parents grew up with very few resources and not much education after middle school, my graduation from WMU is something extraordinary to my parents.”

Four WMU students stand on the football field at Waldo Stadium wearing homecoming sashes.

Sánchez says it was his family’s support that helped him reach his dream, especially his mother, who he says is his “hero for life.”

“I know people say this a lot, but I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Now with a bachelor’s degree in hand, he’s forging a new path for his family and other first-generation college graduates, hopefully where it all started for Sánchez.

“WMU will always be a second home to me because of the memories, friends and mentors that helped shape me into who I am today,” he says. “I am truly thankful and hope that years from now I can help Broncos reach their dreams too.”

 For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.