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Latinx/a/o Scholars Corner

March 31, 2017

Buenos Dias Colegas!

The Latino/a Knowledge Community strives to support the research and share the stories of colleagues who are completing scholastic work, especially focusing on Latinx/a/o educational issues. If you want to have your research or story shared, please contact Sarah Rodriguez ([email protected]) or Marissa Vasquez Urias ([email protected]).


Dr. Ismael Fajardo is a Research Associate within the College of Education at the University of Washington - Seattle. To contact Dr. Fajardo, you may email him at [email protected].

What initially interested you in studying Latinxs in higher education?

My interest in this area has been strongly influenced by my life experiences. My parents migrated from Mexico to a small, agricultural town in Washington State. This town, Grandview, has been predominately populated by Latinx immigrants who come to work in the agriculture fields. Success for young Latinx males was not measured by educational accomplishments, but rather their ability to graduate high school and go into the local workforce.  My father valued education and wanted myself and my brothers to have opportunities that he had sacrificed early in his life in order to work on the family farm. He encouraged me to pursue education at an early age. I went into college with “Que vayas con Dios” (that you go with god) as my sole support and encouragement. I had no idea how to navigate the educational system, whether it was financially or academically. Through my struggles, I met many Latinx students on the same journey. I started out in community college prior to moving on to a four-year institution, simply because I was unaware if I was prepared for or belonged at a four-year university.  From there I gained confidence to transition to a four-year institution and subsequently on to graduate studies. I feel privileged that I have made it to this point on this journey, as there were so many stops along the way where I could have been redirected or encouraged to exit the pipeline. I am not surprised when I see fellow Latinxs discouraged or diverted in their educational endeavors. I want to better understand what factors make Latinx males successful, not only in getting into higher education programs but in successfully completing them, as this is an area of research that could identify barriers or gaps in the pipeline that lose Latinx male talent along the way.

How has your research evolved over time? What is a finding you did not expect?

My research began with using quantitative methods to examine Latinx civic engagement. I then expanded my researched in areas of parent engagement, Latinx K-12 academic preparation and postsecondary transitions for Latinx high school students. My early qualitative research focused on district and community-based parent engagement initiatives and their effect on the participation of marginalized parents in the educational process. My current research has evolved into using mixed-method approaches to investigate Latinx male retention, graduation, and success. 

Through my dissertation research, I did not expect to find that the challenges that have impacted Latinx students in academia in previous decades are many of the same challenges that impact Latinx students today. I did not expect to find such differences between Latinx males and females in STEM. Often times Latinas have higher grades in math and science but are less likely to form STEM identities than their male counterparts with lower grades on average. Although my research focuses on Latinx males, it is also important to highlight the challenges Latinas face as well.

What motivates you to continue writing and pursuing this line of work?

Both my personal experiences and those of my parents in education motivate me to pursue research that will eventually impact policy and practice in academia. My parents worked in manual labor jobs for minimal pay for most of their lives. Limited by a sixth-grade education, they know first-hand the challenges that could be avoided if they had a formal education. Their ongoing support to improve education for my family, community and other Latinxs is my motivation.

The community in which I was raised also motivates me. Opportunity for and attainment of higher education remains limited. My hope is that my research will come back to benefit my community. I have a specific passion for learning about how to foster Latinx science identities in high school to increase them pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors in college. I did not have much exposure to STEM majors and careers in high school and hope that through my line of work others might now have that exposure and support to be engineers, computer scientists, or chemists in their community.

I have experienced many obstacles during my educational journey to a Ph.D. These experiences have inspired me to serve and provide opportunities to others with similar experiences – just as individuals and programs have done for me. I am motivated to continue to research and write to improve educational equity and to overcome some of these lingering challenges to Latinxs in higher education.

How can your research influence the work of student affairs professionals?

For the past year, I have been involved with the Brotherhood Initiative at the University of Washington. It is a research-to-practice design that includes various student affairs professionals, university leaders, students and researchers. We collaborate to identify institutional barriers and shortcomings and co-design innovative solutions to improve student outcomes. This process includes cycles of refinement based on practical application experiences. Ultimately a final product is presented to improve policy and practice for students and the professionals who serve them.

Similar to my experience with the Brotherhood Initiative, I would like for my research to encourage collaboration with various entities within their institution and not work in solos. Diverse cultural researchers, academic advisors, and student affairs professionals meet regularly at my institution to share their expertise and create programming collectively that is data informed to best support male students of color. We aim to promote student growth and success by ensuring engagement with high impact practices, such as research, internships in their career, study abroad, community engagement, and ensure they have long-lasting mentorship from peers, staff/faculty, and professionals in the community. By working collaboratively, we want to best support males of color so they can thrive on campus and graduate prepared for a lifetime of leadership, service and success.

Do you have final words of advice?

Mentors are invaluable in the educational process, both for students and professionals. Mentors in your life may change over time, but it is important to make sure to identify people who you can turn to for advice and encouragement. Second to that, the next most invaluable thing to me has been my community of peers. Having fellow Latinxs and other underrepresented students in my life was an encouragement and support for me. We were going through similar experiences, so it important to have that community during the hurdles of higher education. I have found that through this academic process, the ability to ask for help as well as offer it to others is vital to persevering in the pipeline. At some stage, we will all be a student or a mentor, we will have expertise and experience that can benefit others. Having that ongoing collaboration is beneficial not only to the individual but also that overall educational community.