Ph.D. in Education, 2016
School of Education
May 1, 2013
Doctoral Work Focuses on Social and Psychological Factors that Contribute to Students’ Educational Outcomes
Marcela Martinez is a second-year doctoral student in the UC Irvine’s School of Education, with a specialization in Educational Policy and Social Context. Her research is driven by her personal educational and professional experiences tutoring K-12 and college students in the greater Los Angeles area over a span of 10 years. Her work investigates adolescents’ educational aspirations and how these aspirations influence their career paths. In particular, she looks at the socialization process that shapes adolescents’ proclivities toward specific careers paths, as opposed to others, and the role these choices play in perpetuating inequalities along gender and racial lines.
Marcela’s own aspirations to attend college were not fostered until she transferred to St. Mary’s Academy, a private college preparatory high school. This school taught students why it was important to apply to college, walked them through the college application process, and prepared them for what they should expect in college. The high school also provided valuable knowledge about the financial aid process, how to select a major, and how to stand out from other college applicants. All of these lessons were part of the school’s college-going culture.
As an undergraduate at Mount St. Mary’s College, Marcela tutored high school students and found that many of them had aspirations to attend college but lacked the knowledge of how to do so. Her students did not have access to the resources that Marcela had to support their aspirations. Other students, many of whom did not have role models, resources, or support to foster a college-going attitude, told her that they did not have plans to attend college. She found that while many of the students she tutored were in need of assistance in math, there was a much greater need for mentors who could provide structural support to help these students develop and achieve their college-going aspirations.
As a researcher, Marcela takes into account that not all schools provide the same opportunities as her high school did. This is a driving force for Marcela’s research. She believes that all students should have the opportunity to develop college-going aspirations and that obtaining a degree of higher education should not be determined by the high school a student attends. Instead, all students and their families should have the opportunity to decide how much education they will attain so that they can achieve their educational and career dreams. During her graduate career she is exploring and investigating how to resolve these inequities.
Currently Marcela is working on three projects. The first is an article with Professors Thurston Domina and Anne McDaniel to describe the pipeline in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) that begins for most students in high school. Current research shows that students who take more advanced math high school courses and have higher math abilities (e.g., grades and test scores) are more likely to major in STEM fields. Curiously, girls are less likely than boys to select physical science and engineering although girls are more likely to take more advanced math courses, take more years of math, and earn higher grades. This work is exploring how boys and girls make decisions about majors and the influence that schools, parents, and peers have on these decisions.
The second project investigates how students’ expectancy, values, and affects, along with cost, influence students’ decisions to take advanced math high school courses. This work, which accounts for math courses offered and presence of tracking, is based on the California Motivation Project (CAMP) dataset and is being conducted under the guidance of Professor AnneMarie Conley and doctoral student Nayssan Safavian.
Third, Marcela works as a graduate student researcher with Professor Greg Duncan on a meta-analysis study examining the effects of early childhood education (ECE) programs. The UCI team collaborates with Harvard researchers to build and analyze a dataset that includes a thorough review of ECE studies published between 1960 and 2013. She is co-authoring a paper with fellow graduate students Nicholas Graham and Alejandra Albarrán where they focus on the types of ECE programs with a parental education component offered to Hispanic and African American children and its effects.
In the future, Marcela plans to continue to research and contribute to understandings of adolescents’ experiences and the influence these experiences have on individuals’ academics. Specifically, she will focus on social and psychological factors that contribute to students’ educational outcomes. Ultimately, she hopes to create policy changes to improve high school students’ opportunities to learn and achieve the careers they desire.
Meanwhile, Marcela is continuing to mentor students through the Chicano/Latino Graduate Student Collective (CLGSC) at UC Irvine. Through this work, she provides support to undergraduate students as they navigate their own academic journeys.