UC Davis Dateline

First-Generation Education Gets a Boost in Fresno

By Nan Lorenzen

Editor's note: This story is part of a series about the varied projects and collaborations that make UC Davis a fully engaged university.
Armed with a new doctoral degree and braced by her Hispanic heritage, Rosa Flores Carlson stands at the front of an elementary school classroom filled with parents.

The Laotian, Hmong, Hispanic and other foreign-born parents at Jefferson School in Fresno are uncertain about this woman from the regional community college district who wants their children to attend college.

In English and Spanish Carlson relates her own experience as a first-generation Mexican American. "My father was afraid of my going to college," she tells them as interpreters translate into other languages.

Reassured, Hispanic parents ask questions. Then, as interpreters continue to help the parents from other backgrounds, they also voice questions. The queries carry common concerns: "Will my child have to live away from home?" "What will it cost?" "How can my family afford it?" "How long does college take?"

These are some of the same questions that Carlson's father asked years ago.

Since that time, Carlson has gone on to earn one of the first doctorates from the UC Davis-California State University Fresno Joint Doctoral Program for Educational Leadership. A role model for her area's multicultural population, she carries a message: "If I can do it, you can do it."

Designed for educators in the San Joaquin Valley, the joint-doctoral program was created in 1990 by the Division of Education at UC Davis and the Division of Graduate Studies at CSU Fresno. Ten graduates received an Ed.D. degree in 1994 and 1995. Currently, 56 educators are enrolled, all working to translate into practice what they have learned in the four- or five-year program.

Rosemary Papalewis, the CSU Chancellor's Office executive director of inter-institutional relations and former co-director of the joint-doctoral program, says these students, "rich in life experiences," are leaders in their educational organizations.

"They have attracted top faculty from the two public segments of higher education across the state," Papalewis said. "As the only public multicampus doctoral program in California, the program is evidence that UC and CSU can collaborate creatively in professional degree preparation." Because Fresno ranks seventh in the nation in the number of students with limited English proficiency, the doctoral program goes beyond the traditional focus on administration to address a broader range of schooling issues that arise with a diverse student population.

An interdisciplinary faculty from three CSU and six UC campuses (Davis, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Riverside, Berkeley) provides the comprehensive curriculum, allowing students to specialize in their particular interest. Students work with dissertation advisers from both the CSU and UC systems.

Program co-director Robert DeVillar, associate dean in the College of Letters and Science and associate professor in the Division of Education, says the focus is on fostering academic success for culturally and linguistically heterogeneous K-12 students.

"While completing their coursework, the doctoral students continue as full-time working professionals and leaders within the San Joaquin Valley," he said. "Through this unique mix, our graduates become research-based professional leaders. As such, they are in a position to influence educational practice and policy, to guide schools in their reform mandates with the knowledge that comes from educational research and the sensitivity that comes from understanding the realities of the classroom and the students."

The interests and background of the doctoral graduates and candidates reflects San Joaquin Valley's demographic diversity:

Nan Lorenzen, a journalist and retired high school teacher, writes for the Division of Education.

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