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Current Research Projects

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Using Our Voice to Transform Hispanic Serving Institutions: Latinx Perceptions of "Servingness"

Click here to see the research project website!

Research Team

Amber Gonzalez, Ph.D., California State University, Sacramento

Kevin Ferreira van Leer, Ph.D., California State University, Sacramento

Maria Razo-Soto, Graduate Research Assistant

15 Latinx undergraduate co-researchers


College Futures Foundation


Latinx undergraduate enrollment in the U.S. doubled from 1.4 million in 2000 to 3.2 million in 2016 (McFarland et al., 2018). Yet, higher education institutions, including Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), fail to graduate Latinx students at the same rates as their peers (Contreras & Contreras, 2015). This systemic failure requires a critical investigation into how institutional contexts can better facilitate success for Latinx students.  HSIs enroll approximately 67% of all Latinx students (Excelencia in Education, 2020) and while the HSI designation implies these institutions serve students, it is based solely on enrollment and does not provide guidance on ways to support students (Garcia et al., 2019; Nuñez et al., 2015). This project will employ an innovative, mixed methods, participatory action research (PAR) approach that is critical to exploring Latinx student perceptions of the concept of “servingness” in the Hispanic Serving Institution and how it can be improved. 


Scholars argue greater attention should be paid to how HSIs can foster more holistic understandings of serving Latinx students beyond traditional indicators (graduation rates and GPAs) (Cuellar et al., 2017; Cuellar & Gonzalez, 2019) when evaluating the success of these institutions. Emerging literature has begun to examine the role of HSI enrollment on broader, more holistic student success outcomes such as Latinx racial/ethnic identity development (Guardia & Evans, 2008), self-concept (Cuellar, 2014), and critical consciousness (Garcia & Cuellar, 2018). Yet, few of these studies have examined student success at HSIs while centering Latinx student voices and experiences. Our proposed research engages Latinx students at CSU Sacramento (CSUS), grounding them as knowledge producers whose lived experience is essential to interrogating how university structures and the campus environment support their success. This study is critical to transforming the CSU system to better serve Latinx students as twenty-one of the twenty-three CSU campuses are designated as HSIs, 


Research questions guiding this project:

  1. How do Latinx students perceive their HSI as serving them?

  2. How does the HSI context contribute to critical holistic student success outcomes ? 

  3. How can institutional elements and the campus environment better serve Latinx students? 


Addressing Inequities for Immigrant Families: Promoting Child & Parent Well-being through Social Policies & Services 

Research Team

Caitlin McPherran Lombardi, Ph.D., University of Connecticut

Rachel Chazan Cohen, Ph.D., University of Connecticut

Kevin Ferreira van Leer, Ph.D., California State University, Sacramento


Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Annie E Casey Foundation, NORC at UChicago


Over one-quarter of all U.S. children live in a family with at least one parent born outside of the U.S. These immigrant families with children are much less likely to utilize government programs that they are eligible for, such as food stamps and health insurance coverage. Lower rates of utilization are due to both structural barriers, such as lack of access to and knowledge of programs, and systemic patterns of exclusions, through policies that have aimed to exclude immigrants from them. These government programs are intended to benefit parents and children, and thus it is important to understand their usage within immigrant families to address inequities. Similarly, characteristics of communities have been found to support immigrant families, and it is important to understand the aspects of communities that offer the most support to build upon strengths within immigrant communities.


Led by Caitlin McPherran Lombardi (University of Connecticut), with Rachel Chazan Cohen (University of Connecticut) and Kevin Ferreira van Leer (California State University, Sacramento), the goal of this project is to investigate the role of structural factors, such as variation in social policy exclusions for immigrants, and the strengths and assets of immigrant communities, such as community characteristics, are associated with the well-being of immigrant families in the U.S. The first study will explore how receiving social policies are related to parents’ well-being and children’s development over early childhood. The second study will examine how differences across states in regulations that exclude immigrants from social policies are linked with the well-being of immigrant parents and their children.  Finally, the third study will explore community-level characteristics that benefit immigrant parents and their children. 


The team will answer these questions by examining them in a large representative sample of low-income children from immigrant families that were followed from birth until they entered kindergarten. They will also talk with immigrant families with young children, to understand their experiences with program receipt, program eligibility, and community-level factors that serve to support their families. With the insights from these focus groups, they will revisit our initial findings and then conduct a second set of focus groups with families. An Advisory Board, which will include immigrant community members, will provide input into the study design and key methodological decision-points throughout the process. This cyclical research plan is designed to center the experiences of immigrant communities in the forefront of the research to address issues of equity. Findings from this project will provide information to policymakers and program providers about where resources should be targeted to benefit immigrant parents and their children, where additional outreach is necessary, considerations in the design of programs and the eligibility guidelines, and aspects of communities that support immigrant families.

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