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Abstracts of ACCORD Projects


Dissertation Fellows

Roberta Espinoza
UC Berkeley/sociology

Dissertation: Educational Pivotal Moments: Overcoming Class and Ethnic Disadvantage in Women’s Access to Higher Education.

Abstract: This study examines the ways in which Latina, African American, and White female doctoral candidates organize their social support networks in graduate school, with an emphasis on the importance of “pivotal moments.” Pivotal moments are times when students first have access to educational social capital via an intensive academic social support network that launches them in a trajectory of educational advancement. Drawing from 50 open-ended interviews and using a social capital theoretical perspective, this study explores the timing of pivotal moments in predicting educational success in higher education. The data indicate that women who experience ‘early’ pivotal moments have broader support networks, more fellowships, grants, and conference presentations while women who experience ‘late’ pivotal moments have small support networks, fewer fellowships, grants, and conference presentations. Thus, pivotal moments have important policy implications for minority women’s access to and success in higher education.

Jevon Hunter

Dissertation: The Social Organization of Academic Literacy Within and Across Middle School Contexts

Abstract: This dissertation study employs a sociocultural theoretical framework and an interpretative case study approach to understand how MESA, a University of California sponsored academic enrichment program, fosters academic literacy. A sample of ten seventh grade students and their teacher are followed in two settings, MESA and a language arts classroom, to examine the features that are associated with and contribute to the social organization of academic literacy learning within and across multiple contexts. Of central importance to this research is how the various learning contexts, and the features within, mediate the acquisition of academic discourses and literacies.

Jolena James-Szanton

Dissertation: Examining the Social Networks of High-Achieving Black Adolescents

Abstract: Educators debate how Black students’ social networks and ethnic values relate to their academic performance. The literature often focuses on low-achieving students; however, high-achieving Black students’ social welfare is often overlooked in this debate. The tendency to overlook this group may result from educators’ assumptions that since high-achieving Black students do not have academic dilemmas, they must not have social ones. This dissertation will examine (a) where achieving Black students are located in a school’s social network, (b) what factors characterize achieving Black students’ friendships, and (c) how location in their school’s network and the characterization of their friends impacts achieving Black students levels of depression, loneliness, and self-worth. Employing social network methodology and hierarchical linear modeling, the research analyzes the relationships among the values and attitudes of high-achieving Black students their friends and determines what factors of the achieving students’ networks influence their psychosocial adjustment.

Eva Ritter
UC Riverside/education

Dissertation: Enlisting Minority Students into Science Research: Federal Policy, Science Curriculum, and Minority Underrepresentation in the Sciences

Abstract: Despite three decades of federal efforts to equalize ethnic/racial representation in the sciences, college enrollment and graduation statistics show that, other than Asian Americans, all major minority groups continue to be severely underrepresented in science and science education. Few studies illuminate why these efforts have not significantly increased representation of minority groups. This dissertation seeks to address one facet of this knowledge gap. Through an ethnographic case study, this research examines the intended and unintended consequences of a major federal program designed to facilitate underrepresented minority students’ transition from undergraduate to graduate school in order for them to become research scientists. In particular, this dissertation will investigate: the role of federal minority programs in the undergraduate science context; the life and conditions for underrepresented minority students in college science; and, the policy implications of recruiting and retaining underrepresented minority students in the sciences.

Erendira Rueda
UC Berkeley/sociology

Dissertation: Navigating School Transitions: Trajectories of Academic Engagement Among Children from Low-Income Mexican Immigrant Families.

Abstract: Many students experience negative outcomes following school transitions, such as declines in attendance, grades, attitudes toward learning, and classroom engagement. These patterns are particularly prominent among students from working class, urban, linguistic and/or racial/ethnic minority backgrounds. This study explores how children from low-income, Mexican immigrant families navigate the transition from elementary to middle school and highlights the ways in which school culture, racial demographics, institutional practices, and student-teacher relations affect student academic trajectories. A significant body of research suggests that students from different social and cultural backgrounds experience and perceive schooling in vastly different ways and emphasizes the social-cultural orientations that students bring to school are the most important factors affecting student engagement. This study seeks to counter the overemphasis of the influences of race, class, gender, family, and social experiences outside of school in order to bring to light the power schools and educators have to affect students’ schooling experiences and academic engagement.

Veronica Santelices
UC Berkeley/education

Dissertation: Differential Item Functioning in the SAT Reasoning Test

This research explores allegations of unfair SAT results for African American and other minority students, which would inaccurately limit college opportunities for disadvantaged students. My dissertation research revolves around the psychometric definition of unfair treatment (differential item functioning or DIF) and its effects on the SAT results for African American and Hispanic students. DIF is investigated using two different methodological approaches: a classical test theory approach and an item response theory approach. This research also helps to judge the merits of an alternative measure of academic preparation for minority students based on some of the more difficult SAT questions. The alternative measure will be judged by its capacity to predict minorities’ performance in college and its predictive capacity analyzed in the context of other measures traditionally used for this purpose.

Jessica Singer
UC Santa Barbara/education

Dissertation: Literacy Sponsorship and First Generation Latino College Writers

Abstract: There is great need for educators and researchers to understand the kinds of classroom experiences that Latino students encounter in K-College that reinforce their literacy growth. This dissertation is a retrospective interview study of ten Latino college students and the factors that led their college professors to judge them as outstanding writers. The participants have made it past various social and academic barriers to attend and succeed in a prestigious four-year university. All of the students come from low-income families with little or no formal education in high poverty communities, and spoke no English at the time of entrance to school. This research will contribute to the diversity of literacy studies by providing concrete examples of the interactions and processes that mentors use to assist Latino students develop superior writing skills. Findings yielded from this dissertation may have significant implications for writing instruction and interventions for Latino students in K-College classrooms.


Postdoctoral fellow

Amy Fann, Ph.D.

Title: Postsecondary Access and the Role of Higher Education in California Tribal Sovereignty and Nation Building

American Indian nations cautiously look to colleges and universities to prepare tribal citizens for participation in nation building efforts that preserve the political and cultural self-determination of their communities. Nonetheless, American Indian students have the lowest college admission and retention rates in the nation. After decades of national, state and institutional level initiatives to increase access to higher education for historically underrepresented students, the college pipeline for American Indians is largely unaddressed. As a result, little is known and even less is understood about the critical issues, conditions and college transitions of American Indian students. This study explores American Indian college access within the context of Native nations’ sovereignty, social and economic development, including taking stock of what tribes report as their goals for higher education, and tribal perceptions of obstacles to and sources of tension around college going.


Junior Faculty Fellow

Adrienne Nishina, Ph.D.
UC Davis/human and community development

Title: Successful Pathways to High School Completion in an Ethnically Diverse Population

This study seeks to broaden knowledge of the effects of ethnic and racial diversity at the high school level on academic achievement. The study addresses two critical questions. First, how does the ethnic composition of the school influence academic trajectories in high school? Second, how does the timing of academic milestones, for example passing the California Exit Exam, impact academic performance and psychological adjustment. The sample consists of 1400 ethnically diverse 11th and 12th grade students from the Los Angeles area and is drawn from a larger longitudinal study that from began in their sixth grade year and will continue to follow them one year after high school graduation. The sample is dispersed in over 100 high schools across Los Angeles County. Research findings are based on students reports of school attitudes and experiences, psychological adjustment, and social experiences, as well as data from school records and high school characteristics.


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