Throughout my career as a researcher, educator, and social justice activist, I have strived to improve educational access and opportunity in postsecondary education for underrepresented racial/ethnic minority and low-income students. As income inequality continues to grow in American society coupled with the growing civil unrest related to racial profiling, police brutality, contemporary neoliberalism, and skyrocketing costs associated with obtaining a college degree, I find myself deeply troubled, and at times quite overwhelmed, by the systemic forces that continue to reproduce social inequality in American society. Yet, I feel simultaneously compelled to act—to make a difference—by investigating and interrogating these forces through scholarship that seeks to uncover, dismantle, and improve those structures that are irreconcilably understood as both engines of opportunity and vehicles of social reproduction.
In examining the importance of access and opportunity across the secondary-postsecondary nexus, my research agenda focuses on two-interrelated threads: The first thread investigates how individual- and institutional-level factors influence students’ pathways to postsecondary education, with a particular focus on racial/ethnic minorities and low-income students. The second thread focuses on understanding the educational benefits of diversity and how different curricular and co-curricular interventions influence a range of skills and dispositions necessary in today’s increasingly diverse and global society. Thus, I approach the issue of access by examining the resources and structures necessary to promote access at the secondary level as well as how increased access contributes to student learning and development at the postsecondary level.
Since beginning my foray as a student and professor of higher education, I have published numerous journal articles, book chapters, technical reports, and book reviews; presented regularly at national conferences; and received research awards and grants to fund my research agenda. Below, I highlight a few of the milestones that attest to my national reputation as a higher education scholar:
• Publishing 38 peer-reviewed journal publications in national and international journals;
• Receiving the AERA award for Outstanding Review of Research;
• Receiving the Distinguished Faculty Award for Excellence in Research from the School of Education at Loyola University Chicago;
• Having my work cited in the Amicus Curiae briefs supporting the University of Texas in the recent Fisher Supreme Court Case, including briefs by the American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, and the American Sociological Association;
• Developing a national survey instrument, the Global Perspective Inventory, that is has now been administered in over 150 institutions and five international countries;
• Serving on the editorial boards of Research in Higher Education (since 2007) and the Journal of College Student Development (since 2009);
• Receiving research grants from the Association of Institutional Research, ACCESS Group, Teagle Foundation, Target New Transitions (TNT) Program, and Loyola University Chicago;
• Invitations to present my scholarship at national conferences, at different colleges and universities, and in select publications;
• Publishing in numerous high impact journals, including the Review of Educational Research, Journal of Higher Education, Review of Higher Education, Research in Higher Education, TC Record, Higher Education, and the Journal of College Student Development.
Access and Opportunity in American Higher Education
Over the last decade, I embarked upon a research agenda designed to better understand what factors are most important in facilitating postsecondary access for underrepresented students in American higher education. I approach the issue of postsecondary access from a social justice framework that examines how the inequitable distribution of resources in our society creates a stratified postsecondary education system that serves to maintain, rather than constrain, the reproduction of social inequality. In doing so, my research in this area highlights the secondary-postsecondary nexus, with a particular emphasis on examining college choice decisions within a situated context in which organizational resources and norms shape individual opportunity structures.
Preparing Students for a Diverse and Global Society
From the onset of my graduate education until the present, I have continued to pursue a research agenda that examines the educational benefits of diversity in higher education, with a particular focus on the efficacy of different educational interventions—both curricular and co-curricular—in fostering student development. Despite the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the use of race in college admissions in the 2003 Grutter case, affirmative action practices continue to face vigilant opposition, and in many states, ballot initiatives have effectively overturned the Court’s decision. The recent Fisher case reaffirmed the necessity of continuing research on the educational benefits of diversity, and reminded educators of the vulnerabilities inherent in social justice legislation. Thus, as a researcher and social justice advocate, I continue to investigate the structural necessity of diversity as a key factor in preparing students for the challenges of a diverse workforce and global society.