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DissertatION Fellows

Nancy Acevedo-Gil

Dissertation Fellow

Dissertation: Building a College Culture in an Under-Resourced High School: Informing Latina/o College Choices and Enrollments

Abstract: This dissertation examines how educators in an urban high school with limited access to resources build a school culture to improve college preparation.  At the organizational level, this qualitative case study reveals how school leaders conceptualize and build a college culture in a majority Latina/o high school. At the student level, this study identifies how the school culture informs the college choices and enrollments of Latinas/os. The study integrates critical race theory, school culture, and the three-phase college choice model to develop a guiding theoretical framework.  Data for this study derive from two oral history interviews with 57 high school seniors, semi-structured interviews with 18 practitioners and administrators, and school observations over the course of a school year. Preliminary findings indicate that although the high school site is building a college-going culture, disjointed efforts limit the culture and Latina/o college choices and enrollments.

Lisceth Brazil-Cruz
UC Davis/education

Dissertation Fellow

Dissertation: From High School to College: Parental Practices of Latino First-Generation College Students

Abstract: Despite efforts of several Chicana/o-Latina/o researchers to document the experiences of parents in their children’s educational process, most mainstream higher education researchers have consistently overlooked the study of the engagement of Latino parents at home and school. Given the strong familial ties often attributed to Latina/o communities in literature, examining parental engagement is a viable avenue to address disparities in education and to increase high school graduation and college enrollment rates. This study focuses on understanding and identifying the ways Latino parents participate in the last two years of high school and the first two years in college—a critical transition period in the education of first-generation college students. Based on a survey and in-depth iterative interviews with a purposive sub-sample while using Yosso’s Community Cultural Wealth framework, this study seeks to understand the multiple ways Latino parents contribute to, participate in, and influence the college transition of their children.

Jennifer Collett
UC Berkeley/education

Dissertation Fellow

Dissertation:  Negotiating an Identity to Achieve in an English Dominant School System: Investigating the Academic Lives of Young Bilingual Learners

Abstract: ‘Negotiating an identity to achieve in an English dominant school system: Investigating the academic lives of young bilingual learners’ is an 18-month ethnography of Latino bilingual students enrolled in culturally and linguistically diverse elementary schools.  The study follows two groups of students in two different Spanish–English Dual Immersion programs and examines the social identities they construct through learning.  At the beginning of the study, all 21 focal students were labeled as English language learners (Ells).  All students were able to communicate effectively in English, but struggled to be reclassified due to their developing reading and writing English skills. The dissertation follows these students through their last year and a half of elementary school and their journey in learning English and Spanish, as well as the process of reclassification, to investigate how these academic experiences shape their process of identity construction. 

Kathryn Hayes
UC Davis/education

Dissertation Fellow

Dissertation: Equity in Elementary Science Education: A Study of Institutional Factors

Abstract: Despite recognition that the foundation for science aptitude is laid down at the elementary level (Tai, et al., 2006), in the last ten years both time and quality of science instruction has declined in K-6 schooling (Center on Education Policy, 2007).  A lack of access to excellent science education is exacerbated for low income students, prompting significant questions regarding inequities within the science education pipeline (Maulucci, 2010).  The critical conditions salient to addressing these inequities include teacher preparation, resources, and leadership, as well as the policy and institutional milieu.  However, although the former three have been studied extensively, the role of policy and institutions in creating the conditions for equity in science education are little understood despite their likely significant role (Lemke, 2001).  This mixed methods study aims to address this gap through examining the role of policy and institutional practice in constraining or supporting equitable elementary science education.

Rafael Hernández
UC Santa Barbara/counseling, clinical, and school psychology

Dissertation Fellow

Dissertation: Responding to Perceived Racial Microaggressions: Impacts on Latina/o Mental Health and College Persistence Attitudes

Abstract: My research examines coping responses that buffer the harmful effects of racial microaggressions on Latina/o students’ mental health and attitudes about finishing college. Racial microaggressions are subtle insults or indignities that belittle or exclude people of color. They may be intentional or unintentional. Despite their often ambiguous nature, the accumulation of these experiences adversely impacts the adjustment, academic performance, and persistence of students of color. Latina/os are the most populous and fastest growing minority group, yet underrepresented in academic persistence research. Little is known about the healthy and effective ways Latina/os deal with racial microaggressions in their day-to-day lives. Certain coping strategies may serve as resources for Latina/o college students to overcome barriers and inequities created by racial microaggressions. Findings will help us understand how to build resiliency and agency against this insidious form of racism and inform efforts to promote equitable conditions for academic persistence of underrepresented college students.

Yvonne Kwan
UC Santa Cruz/sociology

Dissertation Fellow

Dissertation: Encountering Memory and Affect: Transgenerational Transmission of Trauma in 1.5 and Second Generation Cambodian American Refugees

Abstract: The traumatic consequences of genocide, war, slavery, and colonialism continue to manifest not only in the people who were affected, but also descendants of survivors. This study focuses on Cambodians, who lived through the Khmer Rouge genocide, and their descendants. Although there has been some research on the prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and somatic diseases among first generation Cambodian Americans, there is a lack of data on the lingering mental and physical effects of trauma on subsequent generations. Cambodian youth are often ridiculed for not fitting in or belonging to the racially microaggressive discourses of the model minority myth. By tracing the critical transitions from high school to college and from college to postgraduate studies and/or work, this study investigates the effects of transgenerational trauma on family relationships, cultural identity development, and educational aspirations. 

Eduardo Lara

Dissertation Fellow

Dissertation: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell ‘Em About College: Brown Masculinity Portraitures on the Educational Experiences of Latino Military Veterans 

Abstract: This study examined the educational pipeline of Latino male military veterans who graduated from a California high school that lacked a college-going culture.  The theoretical framework employed by this study draws from critical race theory, borderlands theory and queer theory (Anzaldúa, 1987; Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995; Solórzano, 1998; Rabiowitz, 2002).  At the intersection of these theories lies Jotería, a conceptual model used to inform how multiple systems of oppression shape the educational experiences for Latinos as “Brown masculine bodies”.  Informed by ten participants, a theoretical sampling method and Lawrence-Lightfoot’s (1997) portraiture research design yielded an aesthetically complex and robust narrative of critical transitions for Latinos.  Preliminary findings suggest that schooling experiences underscore a form of racialized masculinity during the identity development of Latino males, in turn grooming them as ripe for recruiters to use deceptive practices to enlist this population of students while limiting information on going to college.

Kelly Nielsen
UC San Diego/sociology

Dissertation Fellow

Dissertation: Aspiring in Place: Low-Income Women and the Pursuit of Higher Education in the Outer City

Abstract: In the face of budget cuts that threaten access to public higher education in California, the Student Success Act of 2012 seeks to rationalize the allocation of space in the state’s open access colleges. It aims to do so through the management of students’ aspirations and college-going behaviors. However, we understand little of how aspirations form, change, and relate to action over time. This dissertation employs a mixed methods longitudinal research design to examine the aspirations and actions of low-income female community college students. Drawing principally on four waves of semi-structured interviews with sixty-three low-income female community college students, I analyze the aspiration-action dynamic within a broad yet geographically bounded context as they move through the higher education system. The findings will contribute to our understanding of critical conditions that enhance college opportunities for underrepresented students and inform our understanding of recent policy changes and their potential effects.

Adriana Ruiz Alvarado

Dissertation Fellow

Dissertation: Latina/o College Student Enrollment Mobility: Who Moves? And in What Ways?

Abstract: The large gaps between racial groups in access to four-year colleges and universities have been well documented, but far less is known about differences in the paths that students take once they gain access.  Lateral transfer from one four-year institution to another and reverse transfer from a four-year to a two-year institution have received very little attention as critical transitions in the lives of college students.  This study will employ HGLM and Social Network Analysis to (1) examine the factors associated with enrollment mobility among Latina/o college students who begin at four-year institutions, and (2) develop a description of the institutional networks that emerge between sending and receiving institutions.  The results will help uncover the impact that lateral and reverse transfer can have on access to higher education for underrepresented students in California, and inform both policies and practices that are responsive to the diversity of pathways students take.    

Joanna Wong
UC Davis/education

Dissertation Fellow

Dissertation: What to Write? Elementary Bilingual Students Writing in a Second Language

Abstract: The socialization of non-English dominant children into learning English as an academic language in schools is a critical transition in their lives. However, little research examines how elementary-age bilingual children navigate and understand this transition between their home and school languages and literacies. This dissertation draws on ethnographic methods to examine the writing practices of fourth grade, low-income, Spanish-dominant students in a bilingual school. By focusing on emerging bilingual students’ writing experiences as elicited through a triangulation of sources (student and teacher interviews, classroom observations, student work samples, and instructional artifacts), this study offers new understandings of young bilingual students’ literacy experiences within, and beyond, classroom walls with curricular implications to better serve culturally and linguistically diverse children.

Chenoa S. Woods
UC Irvine/education

Dissertation Fellow

Dissertation: Patches in the Leaky Pipeline: The Influences of Classrooms, Programs, and Schools on Students’ College Preparation and Choice

Abstract: Although college aspirations are nearly universal among students, the college preparation process varies widely based on students’ individual and local contexts. Access to resources, opportunities for adequate preparation, and supportive, knowledgeable adults increases students’ likelihood of enrolling in college, and in four-year colleges in particular. This three-part dissertation examines how classrooms, programs, and school culture influence students’ college choice process. The first study uses sixth-grade student surveys to examine the effect of an in-class early college curriculum on beliefs about and conversations with sources of college knowledge. The second study employs interviews with students to explore their reasons for participating in an optional afterschool college preparation program. The final study examines the influences of high schools’ college-going culture on students’ college choice process. Taken together, the studies in this dissertation provide a more thorough understanding of college choice by exploring how multiple contexts can patch the leaky pipeline.


The Faculty Seed Grant is awarded to support the initial stages of research.

Glenda M. Flores, Ph.D.
UC Irvine/chicano and latino studies

Title: Latina Doctors in Southern California: Critical Transitions in College and the Workforce

Abstract: While there is a plethora of research on Latina immigrant women working in factories, the informal economy and low skill-jobs in the U.S., Latina professionals, with a few exceptions, have been ignored. This project is the first major comparative study of Latina doctors, one branch of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields who work in poor urban and upper-middle-class locales in Southern California. Today, less than 1% of doctors in the U.S. are of Latina origin (Current Population Survey 2007). This longitudinal pilot study focuses on how Latina doctors narrate the process of becoming doctors, examines their educational trajectories, and describes ensuing race relations and interactions with coworkers and clients in their workplaces. I employ multiple qualitative methods to answer the following interrelated research questions: 1) How do Latina doctors explain their pathways into the medical profession and; 2) How do Latina doctors navigate racial/ethnic and class boundaries with coworkers and clients in the field of medicine? This research contributes to the field of education policy by adding to our knowledge of successful Latinas in the STEM fields.

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