Mentoring Ensures Success, Advanced Degrees For Chicana/o Studies Majors

Students and alumni of the Chicana/o Studies Department at California State University, Dominguez Hills shared their experiences at the annual conference of the Mentoring Institute at the University of New Mexico (UNM), held Oct. 26 through 28 in Albuquerque. Thirteen current students and alumni presented “Mentoring as a Labor of Mutual Love and Support: Boosting Student and Faculty Academic Success through Transformative Mentoring at California State University, Dominguez Hills,” with the support of  Irene Vasquez, director of Chicano Hispano Mexicano Studies (CHMS) at UNM. Sue Borrego, vice president of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs; Cheryl McKnight, director of Center for Service Learning, Internships and Civic Engagement; and Leena Furtado, director, Promoting Excellence in Graduate Studies (PEGS) Title V Grant, also researched and co-authored the accompanying paper. Travel and accommodations for graduate students were funded through the university’s Title V PEGS grant; undergraduate students were supported by Academic Affairs.

Students and alumni from CSU Dominguez Hills shared their experiences with mentorships at a conference at the University of New Mexico (UNM). L-R: Irene Vasquez, director of Chicano Hispano Mexicano Studies, UNM; Elizabeth González Cárdenas (Class of ’06); Ben Jesus Lucero Wolf, special major; Daniel Pérez (Class of ’07), Lissette Murillo-Pérez (Class of ’08); Richard Gutiérrez, Angelica Jiménez, Rafael Martínez, Thalia Gómez (Class of ’11); Oscar Ochoa (Class of ’05); and Jose Serrano Najera, graduate student

Student and alumni participants included doctoral candidates Elizabeth González Cárdenas (Class of ’06), Jose Luis Serrano Nájera (Class of ’08), Janette Diaz (Class of ’07), and Ruby Ramirez (Class of ’05); alumni pursuing a master’s degree at their alma mater included Oscar Ochoa (Class of ’05), Daniel Pérez (Class of ’07), and Lissette Murillo-Pérez (Class of ’08); and Thalia Gómez (Class of ’11), who is currently in the master’s degree program in Raza Studies at the University of Arizona. In addition, current students Erica González Cisneros, Richard Gutiérrez, Angelica Jiménez, Rafael Martínez, and Ben Jesus Lucero Wolf shared their experiences as mentees.

In their paper, the faculty group documented interactions between Chicana/o students and faculty from 2005 to 2011 and administered a survey that revealed the efficacy of faculty mentoring for first-generation students and its influence in propelling them to pursue research and advanced degrees in Chicana/o studies.

“Each student has their own unique take about why having a mentor in Chicana/o studies pushed them to set their academic goals higher,”says Vasquez, former CSU Dominguez Hills chair and professor of Chicana/o studies. “A common thread shared by the presenters was that they had a mentor who was regularly accessible and provided them with continuous motivation.

Mentoring can be positively infectious because it offers so many personal rewards,” she says. “All of the students who presented have talked about how they have gone on to mentor other underrepresented students. I have witnessed how when students support each other and share in their successes, they are more likely to help others like them.”

In addition to answering questions on their interactions with their mentors, the students and alumni also listed skills and qualities that they developed as a result of these relationships, including confidence, professional networks, self-discipline, research skills, and leadership.

Ochoa, who serves as a grant administrator in the newly established Promoting Excellence in Graduate Studies Program at CSU Dominguez Hills. He says that the conference opened his eyes to the power of mentorships in the nation’s universities.
“It enhanced my awareness of a lot of the work that’s being done nationally in relation to mentorship and the value it has within graduate studies,” he says.
Vasquez is Ochoa’s main mentor and advisor for his master’s thesis on the history of lynching violence on Mexicans and people of color during the expansion of the American Southwest from 1850 to 1940.

“Having a mentor helps me get back on track with goals I had set for myself,” he says. “She keeps me focused… and reminds me of the importance and value of the work I am doing.”

McKnight says that Vasquez’s efforts embody the true spirit of mentorship, as the professor put students at the forefront of their presentation at UNM.
“There were well over 100 workshops with faculty or consultants telling participants how to mentor, discussing techniques, or talking about impact, but Dr. Vasquez is the only one I know of who had students take the lead and [share] the impact of mentoring on their lives,” says McKnight. “She actually used the conference to follow through on her mentoring, and we had the only workshops where participants could hear directly from the students.”

Students who have benefitted from their mentorships with faculty are groomed to form similar relationships among the younger generation, their peers and future students or employees. Murillo-Pérez and Pérez gave back to their local community by giving art lessons to children at the Mahar House, which is administered by Catholic Charities of Los Angeles. The Wilmington artist and his wife also organized an exhibit of the children’s work for the community to enjoy.

Diaz, who plans to become a college professor, says that she looks forward to helping others with the transformative support that she received from a faculty mentor.
“One way that I am carrying on the [mentoring] relationship with future students is by informally encouraging younger generations to continue with their education,” she says. “Once I obtain my graduate degree, I will have more resources to organize conferences or other programs where non-traditional and underrepresented college students can meet positive role models and receive mentorship.”

According to Vasquez, graduates of the Chicana/o Studies department demonstrate a high degree of postgraduate success. Of the 77 majors who graduated in the last seven years, 39 have applied to post-baccalaureate programs to earn teaching credentials, law degrees, and advanced degrees in a variety of fields; nearly all of them have been admitted to these programs. The survey revealed that the majority of respondents had a faculty mentor from their department and that the experience had a positive impact on their education and goals.

Martínez, who has been mentored by Vasquez and Ericka Verba, associate professor of history, says that their guidance provided him with role models to propel him toward his own goals.

“Through my mentors’ leadership, I was able to realize through example that pursuing higher education was possible and that I had the self-worth to push forward with my goals,” he says. “The standard was set higher after meeting my mentors, but the road became more clear.”

For video clips on CSU Dominguez Hills students and alumni at UNM’s Mentoring Institute, click here.


  1. Bill Pena says:

    I hope the best for these individuals, being a Alum from 1979..and currently living in Albuquerque, NM. If I had a good mentor back then it was Dr. Enrique Cortes..I think of him and have to thank him for some of my success. Nice to see that Cal St U Dominguez Hills are helping fellow Chicano Students succeed.. and nice to see that UNM is apart of this..

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