EdQ Summer 2019 Research Fellow Headed to Stanford

EdQ Summer 2019 Research Fellow Rubén González

The Pathways Fellowship

The Sacramento State Pathways Fellows Program is a federally funded program that aims to prepare upper level undergraduates, master's levels students and recent graduates to enter rigorous doctoral programs.  Fellows are organized in small cohorts and receive a full year of training which includes working with a faculty mentor on research methods, conducting their own research, and serving as a research apprentice at a policy or research center. Mentors guide fellows towards their first publication of research and through the process of applying to doctoral programs.  

The research theme for the program is Pathways: Successful Transitions to and Through Higher Education.  Within this theme, Fellows study factors that impact students as they navigate their educational experiences from high school to higher education with a particular focus on the barriers faced by students of color or under-represented groups. Each summer, EdQ hosts one of these fellows for a summer research opportunity. “It's one of the most important things we do at our Center" said Paul Tuss, EdQ's Director. “We love working with the excellent pool of aspiring researchers in the Pathways Fellows Program and are always inspired by their passion for disrupting inequities. Our focus is on teacher preparation, which is such a key place to start."

Rubén González

Rubén González, EdQ's 2019 Pathways Fellow, graduated Magna Cum Laude from Sacramento State in 2013 and continued on to earn a single subject teaching credential in English in 2014, with authorizations in English Language Learning and Bi-lingual Education in Spanish. In the fall, he will attend graduate school at Stanford University where he will be on track to earn both his master's and Ph.D. But Rubén did not set out on this path with the advantages or guidance that many young men have in California.

Rubén's parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico as young adults. His father came with a 4th grade education and his mother with a 7th grade education. They met and married and raised Rubén and his two siblings in the Salinas Valley. Education was always highly valued in his household, and he remembers watching his parents juggle family and careers to attend night school and earn their GEDs.

The educational experience in Rubén's junior high school, however, was full of struggle. The inequities and implicit bias that he observed and experienced as a young Latino began to surface for him in 8th grade and he became angry.  “When I found my voice, I became a problem," he reflects. He started to read more about racial injustice in America and continued to challenge the system and the authority figures in it in ways that many school classify as “willful defiance."  “I got suspended 6 times before winter break in 8th grade." School suspensions for willful defiance have been an issue of concern in the state, as they disproportionately affect young men of color and are seen as a contributor to learning loss and the school to prison pipeline. In September of 2019, Gov. Newsom signed legislation banning this practice for grades 4-5 and for grades 6-8 for 5 years. Grades K-3 had already been banned.[1]

Despite testing into honors classes, he was on a path that was leading him to trouble. In 9th grade, he was almost expelled because of conflicts with his honors English teacher. The teacher knew that expelling Rubén was not the answer, but had him removed from the honors class.

Finally, in 10th grade, Rubén was expelled from school. He continued his education at home. That same year, six of his friends were arrested. It was his wake-up call. That's when he decided he wanted to be the teacher that he didn't have.  He knew he wanted to help other kids like him stay on track.

Pathway to the Teaching Profession

Rubén's pathway to college started with a return to high school for his senior year, and dual enrolling in Hartnell Community College in Salinas to make up missed credits. He eventually transferred to Sacramento State to finish his undergraduate education. Even before entering the teacher credential program, Rubén began working with young people. Equity Coordinator, Dr. Harold Murai connected Rubén with California Mini Corps, where, for 3 years, he worked with middle and high schoolers in Dixon, tutoring migrant Latinx students in English. His desire to become a teacher only grew stronger.  

Since my initial meeting with Rubén, while he was an undergraduate student, it was obvious that he was determined to make a difference as an educator.  His intelligence, strength of character, and his smooth interpersonal style of communicating will undoubtedly serve him well in becoming a leader in the field of education and an activist in historically oppressed and disenfranchised communities.

- Dr. Harold Murai, Emeritus Professor, College of Education, Sacramento State University

While a teacher candidate, Rubén was part of a cohort with others seeking a bilingual authorization. The cohort was supported and designed by Drs. Margarita Berta-Avila and José Cintrón. Their approach was, not only to support them through the requirements of a teaching credential, but to create a community of future teachers who understood the issues of social justice that play so prominently within the bilingual context.

Dr. Berta-Avila recalls of Rubén, “He stood out right away with his political framing and how his own experiences growing up impacting him. Our program simply gave him the language to name his experience and what that means for his role as a teacher." The philosophy of the program centers on the idea that teaching is a form of activism.  This means that teacher candidates must form a political ideology and take action beyond the traditional responsibilities of classroom teaching. This involves advocating for students, pushing against inequality and injustice both within the system and outward in the community. Students are connected with big thinkers and national organizations. They conduct participatory action research projects as part of their training to be in the classroom. “Rubén came in innately with that fire. What we were able to offer him was strategies, structures and frames about what that could look like."

Drs. Berta-Avila and Cintron began to know Rubén through their classes and Saturday gatherings with the cohort. In his first year as a teacher, Rubén and two colleagues formed the social justice and equity collective (SJEC) at the school site where Rubén was teaching and he was eventually hired. The relationship grew over the course of Rubén's credential program and into his early years of teaching in Elk Grove. He was included in research projects, conference presentations and writing projects. He then began to branch off to do his own presenting and writing. During his five years of teaching in Elk Grove, he continued his activism through the Social Justice Collaborative by advocating successfully for change. Two major accomplishments were in addressing the lack of busing for Florin High School students from less affluent communities,[2] and  getting AB block scheduling to help address, through credit recovery and support classes, the disproportionate number of students of color dropping out or being pushed out before graduation.  

Pathway to Graduate School

Rubén admits that he wasn't really considering graduate school, but his mentors Drs. Berta-Avila and Cintrón continued to prod him during their regular dinners together. “They told me I needed to get my doctorate so that I could come back and teach at Sac State and replace them," said Rubén. “They never let up."

The Pathways Fellows program presented Rubén with the perfect opportunity to begin the journey to graduate school. When he first heard about it, he was drawn to the opportunity to get more research experience, particularly research methodology.  Once admitted, Rubén found the supports of a faculty mentor extremely valuable. He received support in writing personal statements and IRB applications, and funds to attend professional development opportunities involving travel. Financial support was also provided for graduate school applications and GRE fees.  Finally, he found himself placed at EdQ for his summer apprenticeship.

“EdQ was the perfect alignment with my interests. I was really excited," reflected Rubén. “While at EdQ, I benefitted as a thinker and a researcher. I learned how to plan a research project and analyze data. Being able to sit down with three different people with doctorates and different areas of expertise helped me craft my research and my thinking."  Rubén analyzed EdQ's completer survey data to identify potential areas where Latinx teacher candidates felt under-prepared or under-supported. He surfaced themes such as feeling less prepared to teach English Learners or connect with their families, or deliver a culturally responsive curriculum. He then conducted a series of empathy interviews with a small sample of Latinx teachers to investigate these themes further, to see the professional and social interactions of the teachers with colleagues and how that influenced their willingness to remain or leave the profession. When summer was over, he was just getting started, but he plans to continue to explore these issues as he begins his Stanford experience.

Onward to Stanford

Rubén applied to 12 highly competitive graduate schools. Ultimately, he chose to attend Stanford University and was granted a full scholarship and Fellowship position in their EDGE Program. The Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education (EDGE) program was especially appealing Rubén because of its focus on race, class and gender issues. Advisors to the program are people of color and leading scholars. Again, he will have a community of peers and mentors like the one that has meant so much to him at Sac State. In five years Rubén will have his masters in sociology and a Ph.D. in Race, Inequality and Language in Education.

While he is sad to leave his classroom, he knows he is fulfilling a dream for himself and for those who helped him along the way. Rubén's advice for other young people who are finding their way is to, “Find your passion and your calling. Use it as your north star. It will guide you through the rough spots and it will never feel like work." For those of us who have worked with him and been touched by his warmth, determination and focus on social justice, we see the only the brightest of futures ahead for Rubén and look forward to seeing the impact of his work for many years to come.

[1] See: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-09-10/school-suspension-willful-defiance-california

[2] See: http://www.egcitizen.com/news/busing-to-be-restored-for-florin-high/article_ec25d87c-b139-11e8-a3fd-dbc824408d9c.html