California State University, Fullerton

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Helping Graduate Students Achieve

Federally Funded Program's Goal to Increase Latinos in Grad School

Jan. 15, 2014

In only three years, the Enhancing Postbaccalaureate Opportunities at Cal State Fullerton for Hispanic Students (EPOCHS) program is already making a change in the lives of underrepresented graduate students. Students like Cristy Sotomayor, a graduate assistant in the program.

"This position allows me the unique opportunity to contribute to the scarce research about Latina/os in graduate school, while further developing the skills necessary to be successful in my program and profession career," said Sotomayor, who is working on a master's degree in psychology. "Working closely with experienced faculty members allows me the opportunity to expand my knowledge of research methods and critical thinking skills. Above all, I experience a sense of gratification knowing that I am working towards fulfilling EPOCHS' goal to strengthening the environment for graduate students at CSUF."

In 2009, while 33 percent of the total Cal State Fullerton undergraduate population was Hispanic, only 15.5 percent of the graduate student body was Hispanic. Since then, the number of Latino/a and Chicano/a students enrolled in campus graduate degree programs has increased from 686 in fall 2009 to 930 this fall, noted Catalina Olvera, director of the EPOCHS program and a graduate student working on her Ed.D. in educational leadership.

Established in 2010 to increase the number of Latino and disadvantaged students of any ethnicity who complete a graduate degree on campus, EPOCHS strives to create a campus culture promoting postbaccalaureate education, said Katherine Powers, director of graduate students, one of the crafters of the program. The program was recently awarded $450,081 from the U.S. Department of Education. Total funding awarded to date is $1,975,533.

To better understand what the program does, Olvera explained the bottlenecks for underrepresented students going for an advanced degree.

"For many, they are the first in their families to enroll in postsecondary education. They are unaware of how to navigate the system," she explained. "There also is often a lack of resources: they worry about how to fund their schooling, and without the knowledge of funding opportunities, they feel they may not be able to afford a postbac degree.

"They also are the least likely to finish with an undergraduate degree, due to balancing work, school and family," she added. Finally, the "fear they do not 'belong' in a master's program is also a factor."

One of the most important program efforts, according to Olvera, is the formation of graduate learning specialists who help those who struggle with academic writing, presentation skills and time management.

Another component is faculty mentoring. "Faculty attend workshops on the challenges and opportunities for Latino graduate students. These workshops have now contributed to the current conversations on campus regarding race in higher education. This is extremely important in meeting goal three of CSUF's Strategic Plan: recruit and retain a diverse faculty and staff."

New this year is an effort to institutionalize the services provided to graduate students, such as writing workshops, one-to-one writing support, Saturday Writing Boot Camps and, this spring, a series of three Saturday workshops on "Successful Grant Writing," geared to specific programs, such as the Sally Casanova - California Pre-Doctoral Program, "How to Motivate Your Thesis Adviser" and "Formatting Your Thesis."

"Currently, these services are provided by specialists with a master's degree or higher with strong writing and analytic skills. There is discussion that the different colleges will be able to offer this support through their adjunct faculty once there is no longer funding from the grant to hire outside experts."

In addition, the program also:

  • Promotes postbaccalaureate study at community events and activities;
  • Provides bilingual outreach materials, including counseling/psychology services, orientation programs and a quarterly postbaccalaureate student e-newsletter for entering students; and
  • Offers monetary support for research projects required by university degree programs. Since its inception, EPOCHS has provided funding support ranging from $100 to $500 to more than 150 students.

Tags:  Academics & ResearchCampus Updates