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Scholar's Corner:Becoming a Latina-Mami-Scholar on My Timeline

Community Latinx/a/o
November 1, 2019 Kelly Gonzaga University

The NASPA Latinx/a/o Knowledge Community (LKC) strives to support the research and share stories of colleagues who are engaged in scholastic work, especially those who focus on Latinx/a/o educational issues. This year, the LKC co-chairs are highlighting the strength, resiliency, and tenacious nature of mujeres in the field who deliberately and wholeheartedly embrace both motherhood and their professional roles as scholars (#LatinaMamiScholar). We would love to feature your story on the NASPA LKC Scholars Corner!   


If you would like to share with our communidad, please contact LKC Research and Scholarship co-chairs Claudia García-Louis ([email protected]) and/or Tracy Arámbula Ballysingh ([email protected]).


Kelly Alvarado-Young has a son, Landon Elías Gordon and a fur baby, Sebastián. She is the director of First Year Experience Programs at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Kelly is a first generation, Latina college graduate from New York and has been at Gonzaga University since April 2014. Kelly has a Master's degree in Student Development Administration from Seattle University, a Bachelor’s from The Evergreen State College in Community and Organizational Development, and associates degrees from Jefferson Community College. Kelly is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Adult and Higher Education from Oregon State University. Kelly’s research focus is on Latinx/a/o student engagement and the role of Hispanic-Serving Institutions in supporting transfer towards baccalaureate attainment through programs like first-year experience and organizational development initiatives.


Kelly Alvarado


Becoming a Latina-Mami-Scholar on My Timeline

Becoming a Mami has been an intentional process that has required me to navigate loss, family expectations, and cultivate hope that has taken me until my early thirties to achieve. As a first-generation, Puerto Rican who grew up in New York my family was very proud of my educational accomplishments. My parents are both amazingly smart individuals who immigrated to the U.S. mainland as part of the Puerto Rican diaspora in the 1970’s. Neither one of them had the opportunity to finish school in Puerto Rico. My drive for education comes from them because they always wanted me to support others and our community.


Becoming a Scholar

When I was younger the expectations from my family was to get married and have children. I felt pressure from everyone around me who asked when I would have a child. I always said that I would wait to have children until I finished my bachelor’s degree. This became a contention point for me and my partner at the time who wanted a child sooner rather than later. I knew that being a mami was something I wanted in my life and the timing of when that would happen was in my control not the societal pressures from others. I also knew being a scholar was what I wanted. Through the use quantitative data and qualitative testimonios, I am able to use research to bring voice to the experiences of others. That is the power of research. Justice for those who deserve the dignity to be heard. Most of my doctoral work is in qualitative methodology. The Latinx community cultivates values, cultural strength, and esfuerzo.  Therefore, these stories deserve to be captured and examined through qualitative methodologies like interviews, focus groups, and other means of collecting themes. I enjoy listening to those working for and with the Latinx community in my work and seeing the passion they have to provide opportunities for others. As a researcher, I am able to highlight the difference between the White dominant ideology within higher education spaces and those at a Hispanic-Serving Institution. In my work life, I use quantitative and qualitative methodologies to better understand the experience of first-year students. Using a critical lens, I can look at the experiences specifically for first-gen, low incoming, students of color and/or LGBTQ+ identified. These stories in the data can be pushed aside in favor of majority information, which looks better for marketing materials. However, we need critical researchers who are willing to call out where our institutions are falling short in supporting our marginalized student groups.


A tension in one of my relationships, that transformed into domestic violence, was the desire to be a scholar AND a mami. I knew in my corazon that being a mami is something I am called to do. My heart has so much love and care to give to a child. Whether I became a mother through a birth of my own or adoption, I wanted to cultivate gratitude, give myself over completely to the care for another, and stand beside them as they worked to find their way in the world. Up to this point, I had to make concessions in building a family unit in order for me to conduct research and complete my master’s degree. My students, especially underrepresented students on a Predominately White campus, filled a space where I could care for others and give them love. However, also being a scholar has been a vocational call I have heard and responded too. My partner at the time was not understanding or supportive of my scholar identity. There were times when I would think, “I’ll just have a baby to make my partner happy.” Then, I would think at what cost to my scholarship, to my child to be in an unhealthy family dynamic, and putting my education on hold. I am glad that I was true to myself by choosing to cultivate my educational journey and waited to become a mami. 


Becoming a Mami


The story of becoming a mami began in October 2018 when I first found out I was pregnant. I had just married the love of my life, Matt Young. I was in my third year of doctoral work about to complete my written and oral exams with the goal of defending my dissertation proposal before the arrival of my son in June 2019. Being a Latina-Mami-Scholar has required me to be conscious of timing and being flexible in planning. My first trimester was very difficult with the loss of my son’s twin and other pregnancy complications. As I finished defending my written and oral exams, I was put on bed rest, which delayed my dissertation proposal writing. My dissertation chair, Dr. Gloria Crisp, was supportive of me caring for myself and helped me realign my timelines. Dr. Crisp’s care and concern communicated to me that having a child was not a deterrent to my scholarship. Becoming a mother was a gift that would make me a better researcher. I learned being a mami makes me want to continue to be a strong role model affecting change through education and fight to tear down oppressive systems and structures that may affect my son’s life.


During my pregnancy I was determined to keep moving in my dissertation process, but also had to give my body and soul the rest it needed to continue nurturing the life growing inside of me. I sat, talked to my baby who kicked inside my belly, and rested. If you know me, I am always moving at a million miles a minute, so the idea of rest was a new skill to develop for my selfcare toolbox. During this time of cultivation, I mediated on the Mexican proverb, “they tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.” Through all of the trials and tribulations folks told me to stop out of my doctoral work. Instead I used my pregnancy and child as the drive to keep going. He is the seed that will continue learning and giving back. He was born to stand on the shoulders of his elders and ancestors who had paved the way for him to be who he is called to be in this world. I defended my dissertation proposal eight months pregnant and submitted my IRB application one week before his arrival.


Now I am in my final year of my doctoral program. My son is the ultimate driver in making me a strong Latina-Mami-Scholar. My research on Hispanic-Serving Institutions and the ways they support Latinx student transfer will impact him, his friends, our community, and the future. I have a writing plan, but always put my son first. I had to make changes to my study such as doing Zoom interviews instead of in-person interviews due to how far away my research sites are from my home. My institutional maternity leave required me to use all of my vacation time. I could have chosen to return to work to save vacation time for my study, but I choose to enjoy more baby snuggles with Landon. The changes to my plans do not stop me from being a researcher. I am able to be a researcher in a way that is authentic to me as I work to co-parent with my partner. As I navigate this new identity as a mami, unlike other colleagues with children, I talk about Landon all the time. He is a part of me that doesn’t disappear when I walk into my office. He is the ultimate motivator to continue fighting for equity.