M.A. in Education, 2010
School of Education
March 1, 2008
Irene Vega Draws Upon Personal Experience to Explore Latina/o Academic Achievement
Irene grew up in a migrant family that followed the agricultural harvest seasons between southern Arizona and northern California. When she was in high school, her family finally settled in San Luis, Arizona, a small town that borders the Mexican state of Sonora.
Upon graduating from Arizona State University (ASU) with degrees in Political Science and Chicana/o Studies, Irene worked as a Prevention Specialist with junior high and high school students and with youth who had dropped out of formal schooling. The majority of the young people Irene worked with were low income Latinas/os living in rural and urban communities in Arizona. On many occasions, she and her students engaged in intense conversations about their life goals and the importance of higher education in helping them achieve those goals. Yet, these students had been referred to the prevention program because of low academic performance, low attendance levels, and disciplinary issues. Irene recognized that “sadly, their goals and aspirations did not parallel their academic profiles.”
Professional practice and personal experiences propelled Irene to pursue a Master’s degree in Higher and Postsecondary Education at ASU, and she focused her studies on the underrepresentation of Latina/o students in higher education. As a graduate student, she also served as research assistant on a project that examined rotating savings associations in Mexican/Mexican-American communities. Irene graduated with an M.Ed. in 2007 and was named the Ed Pastor Outstanding Graduate and the Latina/o Graduate Student Outstanding Graduate. She was honored to deliver the student address at the 2007 Hispanic Convocation. Subsequently, she was awarded a Eugene Cota-Robles Fellowship to pursue doctoral study at UCI. Irene chose UCI’s Ph.D. in Education program because it reflected her intellectual interests, which lie at the intersection of research and policy. She was particularly intrigued by the design of the doctoral program, which facilitates learning across disciplines and engenders collaboration among psychologists, sociologists, education scholars, and teachers. She is enjoying the diversity of research interests among students in the entering cohort and believes this is one of the strengths of the program.
Irene’s first year doctoral research project focuses on the achievement gap between Latina and Latino students. She is conducting a qualitative study to examine educational perceptions and academic strategies of Latina/o high school students and is monitoring whether gendered patterns emerge from the data.