Ximena Sanchez Martinez is a senior majoring in comparative studies in race and ethnicity with a focus on health and wellness. Her passions include advocating for immigrants’ rights, access to higher education, and access to health care. These passions greatly influence her work and academic goals to become a medical anthropologist and physician. In addition to academic values, Ximena also prioritizes the intersection of art and social justice. The majority of her artwork explores her identity as a first-generation student in higher education. Her current work focuses on spotlighting the stories of immigrants and depicting the obstacles "DREAMers" face when pursuing higher education. She will be working on an art exhibit alongside her honor thesis through the Institute of Diversity and Arts (IDA) Fellowship.
The Next Step: A Study of the Experiences of DACA and Undocumented Students on the Transition Post-College Graduation
Advisors: Tomas Jimenez, Jonathan Rosa, and Rebecca Gleit
What is the focus of your current research?
My current research focuses on how undocumented students navigated their path to college and how they are navigating the post-college transition. As I go through my research project, the questions I seek to answer are: How did undocumented students navigate their transition to college, and how does it compare or differ as they are navigating their transition post-college? How do undocumented students make sense of their situation, and what factors play a role in what undocumented students deem is their next best step?
What drew you to this topic?
There is a lack of knowledge and support on the transition and decision-making of undocumented students post-college graduation. This transition is critical for all students and the nuanced experiences of undocumented students impact the way they navigate this transition. Their identities as first-generation and low-income may also impact their higher education experience. It’s crucial to gain a better understanding of the barriers they face and the intersectionality of their identities to learn how to create strong support networks and career programs for undocumented students.
How are you conducting your research?
For my honor thesis project, I plan to conduct at least 12 in-depth semi-structured interviews with undocumented students pursuing higher education. The interview guide will have questions centered on topics of how students navigated their college application process, their transition to higher education, and how they are navigating their transition post-college. From the interviews, I also hope to learn of any support systems they used or what resources they wished were available.
What would people be surprised to learn about the topic you are working on?
Two states ban undocumented students from enrolling at post-secondary public institutions. Other states make them ineligible for in-state tuition, forcing them to pay out-of-state tuition. These actions increase the barriers to pursuing higher education because the cost of attendance is tripled. California is one of the states that grants in-state tuition and allows undocumented students to qualify for state and institutional financial aid. While the legislation makes higher education more accessible, it fails to provide support and guidance at the end of their college journey.
In your view, why is it valuable to study this topic?
I’m aiming to amplify the stories of undocumented students in higher education. I hope to learn more about the factors that play into the post-baccalaureate decision-making process of undocumented students to learn how their immigration status impacts their education. In particular, I hope to gain a better understanding of how the decision-making process differs between undocumented and "DACAmented" students. Investigating how immigration status affects students will bring much-needed empirical evidence to show the need for strong support networks for undocumented students.
How is your honors thesis impacting you academically and/or personally?
My thesis will help me develop my research skills. I’ve been involved in research opportunities from biology to the humanities. I learned basic science research from a genetics lab, interviewed Spanish-speaking families in the intensive care unit, and surveyed people across the country through the American Voices Project. These are some of the experiences that have helped me develop a nuanced approach to research and I look forward to developing these skills in doctoral studies.
How do you anticipate the fellowship will be able to support your research?
As a first-generation college student, mentorship has been crucial in my higher education journey. I’m excited to have more support and a community I can reach out to for guidance. I look forward to improving my writing and research skills. Also, I anticipate the fellowship will introduce me to more areas of research in the humanities field. I’m also excited to build a community with my peers and get lunch together!