Maria Guadalupe Romo-González and Gaby Hinojosa

Maria Guadalupe Romo-González and Gaby Hinojosa

Spurred to action by the ongoing protests against police violence directed at Black communities and the persistence of systemic racism, the Deans and the Graduate Division at UC Santa Barbara launched a new program in fall 2021 designed to enhance the recruitment of students committed to racial justice. Five-year packages of full funding were established to recruit students whose research and teaching interests, mentoring experiences, and/or other demonstrated commitments are focused on racial justice.

Two of the four UCSB graduate student awardees in the inaugural cohort of Racial Justice Fellows are in the Gevirtz School—Gaby Hinojosa in the Department of Counseling, Clinical, & School Psychology and Maria Guadalupe Romo-González in the Department of Education. We recently asked them both about how they got to the School and what their future plans are.

Gaby Hinojosa

GGSE: How does it feel to be part of the first UCSB cohort of Racial Justice Fellows?
Hinojosa: It feels surreal to be a part of the first cohort of Racial Justice Fellows. It shows advancements in equity and UCSB’s commitment to serving diverse students. With this fellowship, I feel supported in my research and career aspirations of helping underrepresented communities. 

GGSE: What led you to apply to Department of Counseling, Clinical, & School Psychology (CCSP)?
Hinojosa: There were many attractive qualities of CCSP that stood out to me when applying. One trait in particular is the commitment to diversity within the program. I wanted to be in an environment where I felt supported in my endeavors to combat racial injustice and where I could engage in research within marginalized communities. It is one thing to say you’re committed to diversity, and it is another thing to exemplify this through research, coursework, hiring of diverse faculty, and admitting diverse students. The UCSB CCSP program checked every box off my list and I am so happy to be a student here.

GGSE: You’re a first-year student and are already the project manager on a large grant, Project TEAMS. How did that happen?
Hinojosa: I had the opportunity to engage in research during the summer with Dr. Erin Dowdy and Tameisha Hinton [professor and student in CCSP, respectively] where I delved into one of my main research interests which is to diversify the field of school psychology. Near the start of the fall quarter, the school psychology program was awarded this huge TEAMS grant that looks at recruiting students from racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse backgrounds into our school psychology and special education programs here and the special education program at Boston University. Dr. Dowdy realized this would be an amazing opportunity for me to be a part of since it aligned perfectly with my research interests and shortly after I was put in contact with Dr. Jimerson, the head of Project TEAMS. Ever since then, I have been working with Dr. Jimerson and our colleagues at Boston University to spread the word about Project TEAMS in the hopes that we will have a diverse applicant pool this admission cycle. I am very grateful for this opportunity and am glad to be a part of its inception at UCSB.

GGSE: What are your research interests, and why?
Hinojosa: My research interests, as mentioned previously, are to diversify the field of school psychology. The students within our school system are becoming increasingly diverse, yet diversity within psychology professionals, specifically school psychology, is remaining predominantly white. Increasing diversity within the field can allow for diverse mental health needs to be addressed as well as advancements in equity and racial justice. Thus, it is important for there to be an increase in diverse faculty and mental health practitioners to serve all demographics. Additionally, I am interested in equitable mental health practices within the Black community. Specifically, looking at issues of racial trauma and stress, and how we can mitigate these factors through radical healing, universal screening, and culture-specific practices. Furthermore, changing the way we approach school psychology training to better serve the needs of historically underserved communities. I want to utilize my research to dismantle the oppressive systems put in place to obstruct Black and Brown individuals from reaching their full potential.

Maria Guadalupe Romo-GonzálezMaria Guadalupe Romo-González

GGSE: How does it feel to be part of the first UCSB cohort of Racial Justice Fellows?
Romo-González: Being part of the first UCSB cohort of Racial Justice Fellows is a motivating experience and reaffirms that I do belong at UCSB. It is reassuring knowing that I have the support of the greater UCSB community and that there is a support network that believes in me, the work I do, and my academic and professional success. I feel inspired to continue with my education and the work I firmly believe in and have devoted myself to over the years.

GGSE: What led you to apply to the Department of Education at the Gevirtz School?
Romo-González: Through my involvement with the Migrant Education Program and the PUENTE Project, I witnessed firsthand the importance of having access to necessary resources and college guidance in under-resourced and highly dense immigrant communities. My recent experience working on research projects at a higher education think tank helped me put into perspective how I, as a Latina first-generation college graduate from the Salinas Valley, can raise research questions that expose how inequitable the education system is for communities like my own. Immediately upon connecting with my now advisor, Dr. Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj, I knew coming to GGSE was a great opportunity to grow as a researcher, student, and individual. My research interests closely align with those of my advisor Dr. Sattin-Bajaj, and I was excited to join GGSE’s welcoming and supportive learning community.

GGSE: As you mentioned, you have already worked at a think tank in DC. What made you want to get a Ph.D.?
Romo-González: From my experience working at a think tank, I had the opportunity to dig deeper into research projects that aligned with my interests and learn from experienced colleagues in the field. I was exposed to a wide range of valuable research projects, improved my understanding of what every day research can look like, and gained clarity on how current research can have an impact on students’ lives. One of the projects I worked on during this time looked at students’ experiences in higher education during the pandemic. The disparities faced by low-income, first-generation, undocumented folk, and students of color have exacerbated during the pandemic and were prevalent throughout conversations with students and faculty in the study. As we wrapped up this report, as with others, I had opportunities to connect our research findings to necessary actionable items and recommendations for institutions, elected officials, and individual people in positions of power to consider. Many questions and research interests arose during my time there, and a constant one has been understanding how immigrant students and families can be most supported in an education system not designed for them. I decided to pursue a Ph.D. to explore this research interest and apply my past experiences working at a think tank to move forward in improving education opportunities for immigrant and immigrant origin students.

GGSE: What are your research interests, and why?
Romo-González: I am interested in understanding how systemic practices and institutionalized policies shape the experiences of immigrant and immigrant-origin students and families navigating the systems of higher education. As a proud daughter of immigrant parents and having had the opportunity to work with students and families with immigrant backgrounds, I recognize that policies, practices, and cultural perceptions impact immigrant origin students’ and families’ opportunities pursuing higher education. Often, students from immigrant backgrounds face language, cultural, and financial barriers, among others, and are pushed out of the classroom. I hope to be able to better understand the experiences of immigrant students and parents, highlight their stories and bring froth recommendations that could be implemented at an institutional and systemic level.