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Name: Eligio Martinez Jr.
Title: Visiting Assistant Professor
Institution: Cal Poly Pomona
What initially interested you in studying Latinos in higher education?
My initial interest in conducting research on Latina/o students stems from an experience I had working as a recruiter for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Admissions. I recall going to a high school in Anaheim, CA and encountering a student who was a bit hesitant to approach my table. When I asked him why, he said because it was UCLA, and he could never get in. As I tried to explain to him that I shared a similar experience as him having grown up in nearby Santa Ana, the young man then stated, “You know what, the marines have the pull up bar over there, and the girls kind of like that.” This moment made me think about how that young man had been conditioned to believe that he could not get into a school like UCLA, but it also made me think about what is important to a 17-year-old young man and how masculinity influenced his life. This experience led me to begin my research trajectory and look at how Latino males form their career aspirations.
How has your research evolved over time? What is a finding you did not expect?
Initially I began doing research on why Latino males decided to enlist in the military instead of pursuing a higher education. After conducting studies with high school seniors and military veterans who had enrolled in college after their service, I realized that all of these men had been written off by the school system before they even entered high school. As such, I shifted my focus to look at the stratification process for Latino males during middle school and how academic tracking and discipline begin to limit their opportunities for the future. Later on, I had the opportunity to work at a community college which exposed me to a new population of students who I had not worked with previously. Here, I realized the disparities that existed for men of color and how community colleges continue to fail its students. What was most alarming was seeing how many student service staff and administrators viewed students from a deficit standpoint, believing that they were not capable of being successful. As a result my research now focuses on two critical junctures in the education pipeline for Latina/o students, in particular males: middle school and the community college experience.
What motivates you to continue writing and pursuing this line of work?
We still have a lot of work to do to improve the experience of Latina/o students both at the K-12 and higher education levels. While we have made gains in terms of high school completion, college enrollment, and graduation, the gaps between Latino males and females still exist, as does the gap between white and Latino students. As we continue to close the achievement gap, we need to begin to look at the causes that are preventing students from going to college and, once in college, look at the institutional factors that prevent students from being successful.
How can your research influence the work of student affairs professionals?
I think there are several ways that my research can impact student affairs. From the K-12 perspective, outreach and recruitment programs need to start working with students at a much younger age to ensure that students are aware about admissions requirements and how to pay for their college education by the time they enter high school. Often, we assume that counselors are providing information to all students but what we have found is that only a select few students receive information, leaving those that really need the support searching for answers. Demystifying what college is and what admissions requirements are at an early age allows student to prepare and plan for college early.
From the higher education perspective, we need to ensure that we reach the students who really need the support. Having worked at a couple of Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), I realized that while intentions may be good, a lot of the programming that is developed to support underrepresented students often missed those who could benefit from it the most. As a community college student once told me “Being involved is a luxury that I can’t afford.” We need to figure out how to reach these students who may be commuting to campus, working full time or have their own families who may not be willing to engage and try to figure out the process on their own.
Do you have final words of advice?
I still believe that we need to continue to bridge the gap between research and practice and work collectively to address the issues that are happening on our respective institutions, similar to the BrotherHOOD initiative at Eastern Michigan University led by Dr. Raul Leon. More importantly we need to continue to be advocates for our students and help change the perception that faculty and administrators have of Latina/o students and challenge their deficit mindsets.