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Student’s Research Delves Into Child Care Challenges of Front-Line Workers

Class of 2024 Grad to Pursue Doctorate After Graduation
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As a single mother with a young son, student researcher Monique Estrada knows what it takes to work full time — and pursue a college degree.

Estrada spent 10 years in community college, graduated from Mt. San Antonio College and earned associate degrees in psychology and liberal studies. She transferred to Cal State Fullerton in spring 2022. 

“I’m the only family member to attend college, so navigating higher education was challenging. I didn’t have a mentor throughout community college, which impacted the duration of my time spent there,” Estrada said. 

“Being a single parent often puts you in survival mode, but I persisted with my education. I have my son to motivate me on the challenging days.”

Now a senior, Estrada works 40 hours a week as a veterinarian technician and part time at the university’s Transfer Adult Re-Entry Parenting and Pregnant Student Center

She is on track to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She is applying to graduate school and planning to earn a doctorate in education with a specialization in education policy and program evaluation.  

To help her prepare and succeed in a doctoral program, Estrada has been chosen as a 2023-24 scholar in the California Pre-Doctoral Program and received a $5,000 Sally Casanova Scholarship. Students chosen for the California State University program are designated Sally Casanova Scholars

“Becoming a Sally Casanova Scholar increases my odds of achieving my goal of becoming a higher education researcher,” Estrada said.

The Pre-Doctoral Program is designed to increase the pool of potential CSU faculty by supporting students who have experienced economic and educational disadvantages. Estrada is among a dozen CSUF students selected as 2023-24 Sally Casanova Scholars.

“I feel stronger and empowered because of my education,” said Estrada, one of seven children whose parents immigrated from Mexico. “I want to mentor other first-generation college students who have faced an uphill battle in their education.”

Estrada is pursuing a career in academia to explore research on equity in higher education, particularly among student-parents of color. 

“There is a large education achievement gap for students with children who identify as ethnic minorities,” she said. “I want to use my research to advocate for parents in higher education to promote equity for student parents.”

Estrada is also a scholar in the university’s Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, which prepares underrepresented, first-generation and low-income students for doctoral studies. 

McNair Scholars participate in undergraduate research and scholarly activities, attend and present their work at conferences, visit graduate schools, and receive academic advice and professional development.

“When I transferred to CSUF, I found a tribe of mentors through the McNair Scholars Program. My mentors helped me to realize my interest in research and taught me how to network and be proactive with funding opportunities for graduate school.”

Student researcher Monique Estrada and faculty mentor Melinda Blackman
Student researcher and parent Monique Estrada, left, discusses her McNair Scholars research project with faculty mentor Melinda Blackman, professor of psychology.

Estrada’s McNair research project focuses on the effect that the COVID-19 pandemic had on front-line Latino workers, such as grocery store clerks, bank clerks, mail carriers and Amazon drivers. 

Under the mentorship of Melinda Blackman, professor of psychology, her study examines the challenges related to child care, stress and productivity, which is reflective of and tied to her personal experiences as a single, working mom.

It is anticipated that Latino front-line workers, due to the financial burden of child care, faced significant obstacles, including absenteeism, income-related stress, reduced workplace productivity and potential resignations, Estrada said.

“Monique’s project will shed light on the inequities in the Latino population so that measures can be taken to ensure this never happens again,” Blackman said.

Estrada is working on collecting data and plans to present her research findings at the spring 2024 McNair Scholars Research Symposium. 

As a McNair Scholar, Estrada participated in the Academic Research Consortium at UC Santa Barbara this past summer. Her 8-year-old son, Abel, traveled with her to UCSB and spent the summer at the university. Her research project there focused on migrant workers’ experiences in the Santa Barbara region during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Estrada credits the support she receives from Blackman and the McNair Scholars Program for giving her the opportunities to succeed academically, shape her research approach and prepare for graduate studies.

“Monique’s research is a great foundational project to prepare her for graduate-level work. She is gaining experience collecting and analyzing data and writing research results,” Blackman said. “By learning these relevant skills, Monique will hit the ground running when she enters graduate school.”

Debra Cano Ramos