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Barbara Bolaños
UC Riverside/education

Dissertation Fellow

Does the apple ever fall from the tree? A qualitative study of college-going processes

Abstract: This study investigates how students from varying backgrounds transition from a local high school to colleges and how various in- and out-of-school factors (e.g., relationships, school programs and practices, economics) shape their college-going processes. Data from formal and informal interviews of students and school personnel, document collection, participant-observations in various contexts, and surveys of participating students are used in this qualitative case study to describe and analyze the college-going processes of Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) students and their non-AVID, college-bound peers. A Bourdieuian theoretical framework is employed to provide a (re)productive analysis of how particular factors (e.g., students’ enrollment in high-track classes, relationships with individuals who share their knowledge of how to make students look competitive vis-à-vis other applicants, students’ access to financial assistance to pay college costs) shape these students’ college-going processes and result in either socially (re)productive or transformative processes and outcomes.


Zoë Buck
UC Santa Cruz/education

Dissertation Fellow

Improving Access to Cosmology Content for Community College Students through Visualizations

Abstract: Cosmology content is often delivered through high tech animated simulations of our Universe called visualizations, which have low linguistic demand, but the potential to convey complex science content. The research I propose is designed to improve access to STEM content by studying learning mediated by these visualizations in a culturally and linguistically diverse community college classroom in California’s Central Valley. Using the lenses of sociocultural theory, and activity theory, I ask the following question: How are students in a diverse community college classroom using visualizations to mediate learning activity in small groups? I will conduct 25 semi-structured group interviews that include a collaborative drawing task. The resulting paper will contribute to the literature on designing learning tools to expand access, and directly inform the production of new tools through collaboration with a visualization design group at UCSC, and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.


Erin Cue

Dissertation Fellow

Let’s YAP About the Future: A Youth Attribution Program for African-American 6th Graders

Abstract: African-American students' beliefs about the causes of their academic failures is an area that has not been explored in-depth. Nonetheless, with low graduation rates and ongoing reports of low academic achievement, educators must begin to understand African-American students perceptions and attitudes toward school and use the insights gained to address issues challenging African-American students in our education system. Using a mixed-method approach, this research identifies the causal attributions for academic failure that may be endorsed by African-American 6th graders. The overarching goal of this research is to examine whether harmful attributional beliefs (e.g., academic failure is caused by a stable characteristic that cannot be changed) among 6th grade low achievers can be altered through an attribution-retraining intervention. Guided by attribution theory, hypotheses address the notion that increasing the belief that academic failure is not stable and can be changed through personal effort will improve students' psychological and behavioral outcomes.


Leslie Echols

Dissertation Fellow

Taking a Closer Look at Academic Tracking: New Measures, New Questions, and New Implications for Ethnic Minority Youth

Abstract: With the achievement gap steadily increasing as children move from elementary to secondary education and contributing to the underrepresentation of minority students in higher education, there is a critical need to understand early school influences on ethnic minority youth that lead to later academic success. My dissertation proposes that the pathway to higher education for ethnic minority youth is largely influenced by academic tracking beginning in middle school. Using a segregation index along with an academic tracking index created for this study, my dissertation employs quantitative data analysis to (1) examine tracking in the context of school influences on ethnic minority youth and (2) predict the academic adjustment of ethnic minority students in middle school. I hypothesize that tracking influences academic outcomes directly by limiting the academic preparation minority students receive and indirectly by restricting associations with cross-ethnic peers who may offer unique types of social and academic support.


Katherine K. Frankel
UC Berkeley/education

Dissertation Fellow

Understanding “Remediation” from the Student’s Perspective: The Potential for Expansive Learning in Ninth Grade Literacy Intervention Classes

Abstract: The transition from middle school to high school is a critical juncture in the lives of all students. However, it is particularly important for students who are enrolled in ninth-grade literacy intervention classes because these students have already been identified as at-risk for school failure and are underrepresented in California’s higher education institutions. In this dissertation study, I employed qualitative methods to investigate two different ninth-grade literacy intervention models and how well they serve their student populations through the triangulation of multiple data sources (e.g., interviews with students, teachers, parents, and administrators; classroom observations; and samples of student work) at two school sites. In my ongoing analysis, I seek to identify the conditions under which literacy intervention classes have the potential to impact positively at-risk students’ orientations toward school and, ultimately, to improve their academic trajectories.


Gina A. Garcia

Dissertation fellow

Challenging the “manufactured identity” of Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs): An exploration of the social construction of organizational identity at a HSI

Abstract: As the Latina/o population burgeons, Latina/o students will increasingly enter postsecondary institutions and continue to drive the growth in the number of institutions of higher education that are becoming Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs; those that enroll 25% or more undergraduate Latina/o students). Beyond the 25% enrollment requirement, however, many HSIs have yet to determine what it means to be “Latina/o serving.” The purpose of this study is to examine the organizational identity of one federally designated four-year HSI in California. Using a case study methodology, this research will use multiple methods, including in-depth interviews, observations, and document reviews, to examine the organizational culture, practices, policies, and climate of inclusion for Latina/o students at the designated site. This study will add to our knowledge about the way institutions of higher education support Latina/o college students through critical transitions by making college accessible and enhancing the conditions for success and graduation.


Lynette Parker
UC Berkeley/education

Dissertation Fellow

Theorizing the Ghetto: The case of Compton—From the suburban to the sub-urban and the intersection of resources, psychology, and oppression in the construction of Black identity and consciousness

Abstract: The salience of neighborhood transformation in fostering achievement and resiliency in children has been established. Yet the theory that illuminates a neighborhood’s transformation into a ghetto remains vague. This study seeks to clarify neighborhood transformation as part of a larger system of structural racism, oppression and disinvestment. This study illuminates the making of the ghetto of Compton, particularly its shift from a suburban space to a sub-urban space and the impending psychological damage and pathology that follows and impacts residents. Using qualitative interviews of 20 African Americans who grew up in Compton and attended neighborhood schools, and quantitative analysis of demographic shifts along side resource changes, this study theorizes the complex ways in which resources, psychology, and identity interplay in the creation of the ghetto and ultimately underachievement. The guiding research questions are 1) In what ways does the racial transformation of the Compton community explain the change in student achievement? 2) How do members of the Compton community understand their school experiences and their identities in relation to the city of Compton? 3) In what ways are characteristics of Compton as a ghetto internalized, accommodated or resisted?


Jean J. Ryoo 

Dissertation Fellow

Mobilizing Generation Z: An Examination of Teaching and Learning in a Mobile Phone-based, Youth-driven, Research Curriculum

Abstract: Computer technology innovations are central to solving future problems regarding poverty, hunger, pollution, etc. Yet only affluent white and certain Asian American students are being prepared to create these innovations through inquiry-based, computer science projects, while underrepresented secondary school students use computers for basic word processing or “drill-and-kill” test preparation. To address this inequity, “Mobilize” provides underrepresented students with a rigorous, college preparatory, computer science curriculum—in which youth conduct community research using mobile phones and apps of their own design. Since this curriculum’s success depends on how it is engaged, my dissertation study draws on Freirean and Vygotskian theories to examine how educators teach and what students learn in Mobilize. Through a qualitative case study of three high school classrooms, this work fills a research gap regarding computer science pedagogy and best practices while contributing to efforts aimed at improving technology-based education for underrepresented students.


Yen Ling Shek

Dissertation Fellow

Cultural resource centers in higher education: Missions, structures, and strategies

Abstract: Cultural resource centers in higher education serve as crucial counterspaces for students of color as they navigate college. Although there is a long history of these race-specific and multicultural centers on college campuses, little is known about their missions, structures and strategies at a macro-level. This study seeks to understand the commonalities and differences among cultural resource centers. Through survey data, typologies of cultural resource centers may emerge nationally. Follow-up interviews will then be conducted to get richer data on the strategies used by cultural resource centers. Cultural resource centers, which serve as institutionalized support spaces for outreach and retention efforts, are questioned in times of resource scarcity and serve as a critical issue in supporting students of color in higher education. This study will provide the foundational work needed for cultural resource center assessment and assist with creating critical conditions needed for the educational success of underrepresented students.


Bryan Ventura

Dissertation Fellow

Perspectives from within the Hidden System: A Mixed-Method Examination of Practices used by California's Model Continuation Schools

Abstract: With a legislatively mandated focus on dropout prevention, continuation schools have been charged with educating high school students at risk of school failure. Unfortunately, research and reform efforts have overlooked this important segment of the education system. This study seeks to investigate the practices used by successful continuation schools as a starting point for improving how these schools serve their students. The study examines Model Continuation Schools, an award given to exemplary programs by California’s Department of Education, and examines the practices these schools use to increase student learning, participation, and ultimately graduation. Ethnographic research methods are used to provide an in-depth examination of the practices at a local Model Continuation School. This is supplemented by an analysis of written narratives describing the practices of other Model Continuation Schools in the region. Together these findings draw attention to the way in which alternative school spaces can serve and support their students.


Tammie Visintainer
UC Berkeley/education

Dissertation Fellow

Shaping High School Students’ Ideas About Science: Examining the Identity-Constructing Resources of Summer Science Programs for Underrepresented Youth

Abstract: Despite numerous calls to increase diversity in the sciences (Oakes, 1990; Darling-Hammond, 2010), the underrepresentation of students of color in advanced science courses and fields is persistent. This research utilizes the practice-linked identity framework (Nasir, 2012) to explore progressions along trajectories of developing interest in, and identification with, science for high school students of color as they participate in summer science programs for underrepresented youth that involve conducting investigations alongside scientist mentors. This research employs a mixed-methods approach to examine: 1) what/how identity constructing resources are made available, and 2) implications for students’ identification processes in science. Analyses examine how students’ ideas about what science is and who can do science evolve through participation in summer science programs, as well as how the material, relational, and ideational resources made available to students through programs differ in important ways that have direct implications for students’ identification processes in science.


Juliet Wahleithner
UC Davis/education

Dissertation Fellow

High School Teachers’ Instruction of Writing: Negotiating Knowledge, Student Need, and Policy

Abstract: Knowing how to write is critical to students’ postsecondary success, yet concerns with students’ writing have persisted for nearly four decades. Few reports, however, document high school English teachers’ lack of preparation to teach writing or the pressures they face as they negotiate accountability policies and diverse student need. This negotiation directly impacts teachers’ instructional decisions and, ultimately, the conditions in which students learn to write. Using a two-phase, mixed-methods approach, this study examines how writing is taught; tensions that arise as teachers negotiate knowledge, accountability policies, and student need; and how and why these tensions vary across teachers and sites. The first phase included a survey administered to 171 high school English teachers. Preliminary findings informed participant selection for phase two—case studies of eight teachers. Together, the two phases will yield nuanced understandings of the interplay of teacher knowledge, student need, and accountability policies on writing instruction.


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