Sophomore Marisa Cervantes may not have expected to be doing such involved research so early in her career at LMU, but this fall she’ll put her research from the past year to work in a class she is co-facilitating for incoming first-generation students.
Cervantes first found her way toward research by working for Dr. La’Tonya Rease Miles, director of the Academic Resource Center. “I started out as a research assistant to La’Tonya and found that her research was something that really interested me,” she says. With the encouragement of Rease Miles, Cervantes applied for and was accepted into the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) for spring 2011 with a project titled “Experiences of First-Generation College Students at LMU.”
Cervantes spent her spring semester reading existing scholarship on first-generation students -- students who are the first in their families to attend college -- and conducting surveys and focus groups with current LMU undergraduates in order to compare the two. While LMU’s First-to-Go mentor program pairs first-generation college students with faculty and staff mentors, much of the feedback indicated a need for a peer mentorship program. “Many students wanted another student for help on things like how to approach a professor, or how to get involved, things that were more on the social side of life at LMU,” she explains.
After eight months of work and an additional research award from the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP), Cervantes is preparing to co-facilitate a one-credit LIBA class along with fellow first- generation student Yara Hidalgo for incoming first-generation freshman. This class, along with a section of English 110 taught by Rease Miles, will comprise a new First-to-Go student learning community.
For Cervantes, a key part of the research process was the community that developed out of the work she was doing: “I spent more time with my mentor on a one-on-one basis during the SURP program. I was also able to work with other students who were first-to-go-students and who are working on their own aspects of LMU transfer and first-generation student research.” With fellow SURP participants political science senior Kelly Velasquez and sociology sophomore Valerie Nario, Cervantes became part of a team of peers that were able to give each other feedback and support throughout the course of their research this summer.
In addition to the research skills she’s learned this year, Cervantes says she’s grown personally as well. “I’m much more confident communicating with people on a professional level, " she says. "Before it was intimidating -– I wasn’t sure about talking to doctors and professors. But now I’m able to hold my ground in meetings.”
Cervantes plans to continue her research this year, evaluating the impact of the new First-to-Go Learning community, and has hopes to co-facilitate another class in the spring that will be open to all first-generation students at LMU.