Ph.D. in Education, 2016
School of Education
November 1, 2011
“Inequities in equal education opportunities for low income and underrepresented populations have shaped my academic research focus.”
Alma L. Zaragoza-Petty was born and raised in Los Angeles and Acapulco de Juarez, Mexico. The firstborn of three, Alma is the daughter of immigrant parents who were granted amnesty under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, commonly referred to as the Ronald Reagan Amnesty Bill. Both of her parents completed only an elementary education in Mexico but always aspired to more educational opportunities for themselves and their children. However due to economic instabilities, Alma’s parents dropped out in middle school because they could not pay for their high school education, which is not compulsory or free in Mexico. Her parents worked in the garment industry in downtown Los Angeles for most of her childhood. She was inspired and supported by her parents to pursue a higher education.
In the course of her attendance at East Los Angeles College (ELAC) Alma found a sincere passion in mentoring students aspiring to go onto college. At ELAC, she was employed as an enrollment advisor in the admissions office and later she transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles, where she was awarded the Chancellors Blue and Gold Scholarship. While at UCLA, she joined the High School Advising Program: a yearlong training course that covered K-12 student issues and trained undergraduates to become college advisors through the Early Academic Outreach Program. After becoming an advisor, she recruited high school students from first generation and low socioeconomic communities, coordinating and presenting college preparation workshops. She found what would be her career path in these positions in which she helped students gain access to higher educational institutions.
Assisting students with personal backgrounds paralleling her own made her very cognizant of the lack of resources faced by educationally disenfranchised groups, such as those from first generation and low socioeconomic backgrounds. These experiences first shaped her commitment to education. Two years after being admitted to UCLA, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in English. Her volunteer experiences as an undergraduate were the catalyst for her further exploration in a career working with student populations in school settings. As such, she completed a master’s degree in Counseling at California State Universitiy Northridge (CSUN) with an emphasis in College Counseling and Student Services. During the course of her master’s program, she methodologically investigated and analyzed trends of educationally underrepresented populations attending institutions of higher education together with college counseling theories that inform practice.
While working on these projects, her personal point of view on issues of access and retention in higher educational institutions became intellectual pursuits. During her master’s program, she learned more about the factors that are associated with attrition in underrepresented populations once they enter college settings. This motivated her interest in finding out what college factors were particularly stressful to African-American and Latino-American males — both significantly underrepresented populations in academia. She focused her master’s thesis on this topic and, as a result of her research, was able to inform practice by providing recommendations based on her findings to the CSUN community.
Alma is now starting her second year at the University of California, Irvine in the Ph.D. in Education program, Educational Policy and Social Context specialization. She is a Eugene Cota-Robles Fellow and, as part of her personal commitment to fostering equity and opportunity, she is serving as a mentor in two UC Irvine programs: Summer Undergraduate Research Program and Competitive Edge Summer Program. Current inequities in equal education opportunities for low income and underrepresented populations continue to shape her academic research focus. She hopes to continue her research as a professor upon completing her degree.