Q&A: Vanessa Sansone, UTSA Education Leadership and Policy Studies | UTSA today | UTSA

Vanessa Sansone’s research aims to advance equity and success for diverse student populations in higher education.

(March 12, 2018) – Vanessa Sansone, an assistant professor of higher education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), focuses on research aimed at promoting equity and the achievement of diverse student populations in the ‘Higher Education.

Sansone is a first generation college student who grew up in eastern San Antonio. Her experiences living in a low-income part of town prompted her to commit to advancing social justice for marginalized higher education students.

>> Learn more about UTSA’s first generation family.

We recently asked Sansone to provide us with an update on their work.

Tell us about your current research.

In my scholarship, I focused on issues related to student retention, access to higher education, student success, and the impact of institutional, state and national policies on these issues. I am particularly interested in exploring and addressing how inequalities structure experiences and outcomes for diverse student populations and institutions. Specifically, my research interests focus on the affordability of colleges, Hispanic service institutions, governance structures, and post-secondary student trajectories, particularly among Latinas / OSes, veteran students, and first-year college students. generation.

Right now, I’m focusing on an article that examines how university work influences the experiences and outcomes of first-generation Latin American students. This work began in collaboration with Dr Anne-Marie Nunez at Ohio State University and led to a co-authored publication in The higher education exam, a leading journal in our field.

Together, we examine how work contributes to professional identities and professional outcomes that go beyond economic gains for first-generation Latin American students majoring in STEM. I recently attended a guest conference at the Center for Workforce Transition Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I spoke to faculty, staff and students at UW- Madison of this post and my area of ​​research.

What impact do you hope your research will have?

My main objective is to conduct research that has a positive impact on higher education policy at all levels, i.e. institutional, state and federal. And that in turn increases college access, experiences and outcomes for students from under-represented backgrounds.

In my current research on working college students, there is an opportunity in terms of policy. The federal government is currently discussing reducing funding for the federal work-study program. The results of my research counter negative narratives about work-study programs and demonstrate how work can positively influence the success of less privileged students. I plan to do my research to help with policy reform.

What’s the most important thing happening in your field that no one is talking about right now?

The problem we face is that there are far too few people talking about several important issues. But an important issue that I think we should talk about more in higher education is how the Academy works in an era of neoliberalism. Forms of neoliberalism can be observed when a higher education organization is focused on audit cultures, merit regimes and mission drift, and not on the needs, experiences and successes of its student body under -represented.

For me, this is particularly troubling, given that the demographics of ethnic minorities are increasing in the United States. This approach creates a very narrow definition of what “success” means. But it’s important to recognize that success can happen in many non-dominant ways, especially in open access institutions that serve large populations of minority students.

For example, at UTSA, we serve large populations of under-represented students in a way that is not recognized by static metrics. Hopefully someday we will, but in the meantime we as an organization should be looking to take control of our own narrative and celebrate our successes beyond these metrics because we have a lot of them.

In fact, I think what we are doing here at UTSA can serve as a model that other institutions across the United States can learn from, especially in terms of effective service to students from minority backgrounds.

How has your personal journey influenced your work?

Growing up in a poor neighborhood in downtown San Antonio, Texas, in a low income family and attending high school in an affluent part of town, I was reminded every day how unequal the playing field was. for many young people in terms of access to equitable education and social mobility.

In my own experiences navigating through college as an undergraduate student, the road to a degree was often difficult. Most of the time the challenge was unrelated to school readiness and instead was due to a lack of mentoring, support and advocacy for my needs which did not reflect the larger population of affluent students whose parents attended. university.

I remember a time when I thought I had to retire from college so I could find a full-time job and help my family pay the bills. These experiences have greatly shaped the way I think about my research. In fact, I often reflect on my experiences when conducting research to see where hypotheses or potential gaps lie. Due to the personal connection I have with my research, I tend to be very passionate about my research as I often see myself in the students I study.

What advice would you give to first generation students in pursuing their academic goals?

The first thing I would say to first generation students is to recognize that you are meant to be here. Yes, it will be difficult along the way, but you can do it. I also advise students not to be afraid to ask questions and ask for help. When something is unclear or unfamiliar to you, feel free to seek help from a faculty member, advisor, and / or staff member. I also encourage students to ask multiple sources.

Likewise, first-generation students should seek a mentor. Mentoring has been shown time and time again to positively influence student success. In fact, at UTSA we have a wonderful first generation student-teacher mentorship program called First 2 Go and Graduate (F2G & G). I recently joined the F2G & G program as a faculty mentor and am currently looking for undergraduate students to mentor. I encourage students to contact me if they are interested.

Finally, don’t let the fear of failure hold you back in your studies. For me, failure can be a good thing, because it is in failing that there are opportunities for learning and growth. Growth that over time makes you more resistant to failure. In my approach to addressing my fear of failure and feeling like a sham, I always say to myself, “What do I have to lose? If they tell me ‘no’ all I can do is try again.

I would advise first generation students to engage with their peers. This engagement can be done in class, on a work-study basis, with a campus organization or with a study group. For me, this is important because some of the best learning comes from peer students. Finally, choose a workstation that is flexible with your school schedule and offers a learning opportunity. The forms of work that have proven to be beneficial for first generation students in my research are either workstations that are a) on campus; b) related to your major; or c) meaningful to you in some way.

What do you like to do when you have free time?

When I have free time, I like to spend time with my partner, Greg Sansone, who works at USAA and teaches in UTSA’s multidisciplinary studies program, and our two fur babies. I also love spending time barbecuing with my extended family who are here in San Antonio.

Janice G. Ball