The University of Iowa

Get to know Community Outreach Officer Maria Sanchez


As a community outreach officer for the University of Iowa Department of Public Safety, Maria Sanchez works to increase community knowledge about safety and security across campus and build relationships between students and law enforcement.

Sanchez—who joined DPS in 2018 as a patrol officer—was appointed the department’s second community outreach specialist this fall in alignment with the work of the Reimagining Campus Safety Action Committee.

And, as a first-generation UI alumna from West Liberty, Iowa, Sanchez feels she is uniquely positioned to help further the department’s mission to promote a safe learning environment for all.

Sanchez talks about returning to Iowa City, her duties as a community outreach officer, and more in this Q&A.

Community Outreach Officer Maria Sanchez poses for a photograph in front of fall foliage on campus.
​​​​​Community Outreach Officer Maria Sanchez

Q. What is a community outreach officer and what are your duties?

A. Our goal is to bridge the gap between our department and other departments on campus and develop relationships with students, faculty, and staff. We approach this with a few strategies. We're always looking for opportunities to provide safety training, and often partner with student organizations on solutions when they come to us with safety concerns. We also provide crime prevention information to campus based on trends and conduct safety and security surveys of campus buildings.

More than anything, our main goal is to make students aware that we exist, and that we approach our role differently. We are fortunate to provide our officers with the opportunity to expand their knowledge when it comes to fair and impartial policing, mental health, peer support, and trauma resilience.

Q. What would you like campus to know about your department, and your role?

A. I would like for the community to know that we are here as a resource. Obviously, we are a police department, but I would like the community to know that we truly are here to help them and meet them where they are. That could mean having an officer at one of their events if they need DPS services or inviting me to give a presentation about our department and the extra training our officers receive. Most importantly, we want people to feel comfortable approaching us if they have a safety concern. We are here to provide safety information and work collaboratively on solutions.

Q. What drew you to working in higher education?
A. Education is important. Working in a higher education institute provides me with best of both worlds because I get to promote safety and education in a unique setting. I believe that if you are not challenging yourself every day to learn something new, your days can become monotonous.

As a first-generation college student who benefited from the university’s Pen Pal Program, working with first-generation students is something I’d really like to focus on in this role. The pen pal letters I received as a fourth grade student at West Liberty Elementary are personal to me, and I still have letters from a student who lived in Mayflower Hall. That program was my first time ever visiting a college setting, and the first time I ever thought about being able to attend college. I still participate in the program as a writer and will get an opportunity to meet with those students.

Q. Where did you work before coming to Iowa City?

A. Before joining the university, I was an officer for the Waukee, Iowa, police department. I started my career in law enforcement in 2014 in my hometown of West Liberty, Iowa, as a reserve officer. Honestly, I was just going to try and see what it was about. I didn't think I was going to fall in love with it, but as I got further into the profession, I started understanding different aspects of what law enforcement is and seeing gaps where I could make a difference.

Q. What motivated you to become a police officer?

A. I am the firstborn child to immigrant parents, and I experienced firsthand the disparities and challenges of being a minority in this country. For example, I remember neighbors would ask my parents' permission to allow me to attend doctor visits that would require interpretation, as well as interpretation and translation of court documents.

Language and culture play a strong role when making decisions and understanding how to simply approach a situation. It’s different when you don’t take time to understand how that would impact that person, even at a simple traffic stop. I understand what it is like when someone in authority does not speak your language or does not look like you; it can be intimidating. I hope to be someone our marginalized community can comfortably approach.

Q. What sets the community outreach role apart from that of a patrol officer?

A. Our department encourages all officers to get to know the community they serve. But, in this role I am focused more specifically on that work, meaning my primary responsibilities involve making connections, providing safety training, creating crime prevention programs, and identifying opportunities to work collaboratively with our partners on campus and in the community to address safety concerns. Outside of that focus, I am still considered a patrol officer and contribute to the department in that capacity when needed.

Q. What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

A. I love the outdoors! Cycling, kayaking, hiking, and more than anything, being with my family.  

Learn more about the Community Outreach Program

Learn more about the Reimagining Campus Safety Action Committee’s work