Cirilo Cortez (PhD ‘12) almost didn’t make it to college. Though he arrived in Kern County, California, from Michoacan, Mexico, when he was three, his status as an “English learner” well into his teens trapped him in high school classes that did not meet university requirements, threatening to hold him back.
Armed with parents who put a high value on education and bilingualism, Lisceth Cruz (PhD ‘13) arrived in California from Mexico City at the age of 15. Today, she fights for the rights of other immigrants to get a college education.
Both Cruz and Cortez are education PhD alumni. Both focus their research on Latinos in education.
Cortez, a Gates Millenium Scholar, is committed to serving college students like him through the MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement) program at a local community college. His dissertation documented a successful mentoring program for Latino youth in a local school district.
In addition to her work as a graduate student, Cruz is a leader in the fight for giving undocumented California high school graduates the right to in-state tuition for college and access to financial aid. Her own experience as a Latina immigrant and her research on the role of parental engagement in the lives of first generation college students drive her to stand up for others.
“This whole issue is highly politicized, but the truth is these students are the valedictorians of their schools, they are high achievers,” says Cruz.