In this edition of Glam Grads, The Daily talked with third-year Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate School of Education Nidia Ruedas-Gracia about her research and identity as a first-generation low-income (FLI, pronounced “fly”) graduate student. Nidia is the president of the Graduate First-Generation and/or Low-Income Partnership (Grad FLIP) and is a teaching assistant for the Leland Scholars program. She received her B.A. in psychology and sociology from UCLA and her M.A. in human development and social intervention from NYU.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): Tell me about your research.
Nidia Ruedas-Gracia (NRG): I am studying the experience of belonging among college students from historically-marginalized groups. So, for example, first-generation low-income students. Do they feel like they belong in college? If not, what’s the college experience like for them?
TSD: Has your research topic been informed by your own experience as a FLI student?
NRG: Yes, definitely. I sometimes refer to it as “me-search.” I am a first-gen college student from a low-income background. I grew up in Baldwin Park, which is in East LA , a majority Latino and low-income city. I was raised in a single parent household. My mom went to community college where she got her associate’s degree in physical education (P.E.) to become a teacher. My dad only made it to third grade. My mom grew up in the border towns of Mexicali and Calexico. My dad is from Zacatecas. In college, I had this thing where I was like, “I don’t understand things, I don’t understand this culture, and I don’t know if I am asking the right questions.” When I started my first year of college, I did not know what a major was. It took me a long time to figure out that I was first-gen and that that is totally okay. I’m not supposed to know all the answers.
TSD: How have you found community here at Stanford?
NRG: Through a lot of organizations that focus on people of color or first-gen students. This year, I am president of Grad FLIP which is the graduate version of the first-gen low-income partnership, and that’s all about building community among the graduate students who are FLI. I’m also part of the Leland Scholars program. I am the teaching assistant, and I get to live with [incoming freshmen] for a month in the summer. I’ve found community there, too. I’ve just made cool friends here through Grad FLIP and the School of Education. Oh and El Centro too. One of the things I remembered from my undergrad at UCLA, it was a 10-15 minute walk from my dorm to campus, so if you went to class, you were going to be there for the whole day. There was no coming back and forth. I’d always be lonely because I didn’t know where to go during off-times. I never found that space where I could just chill. When I came here, during week one, a friend told me about El Centro. I saw couches and just a space to chill out. I won’t be uncomfortable or lonely here at Stanford [I thought]. This is a space where I can hang out.
TSD: What work have you done with Grad FLIP?
NRG: It had started a few years ago but it didn’t really catch traction because the people that ran it had to graduate. So then, two years ago, it was started up again in my first year here. I went to meetings and I shadowed their president. It feels nice to have been there from the beginning. We focus a lot around community. We’ve had social events with each other, to hang out and get to know each other. Last year, I put up an event for Diversity Week, which is now Diversity Month. I put on an event, “A Discussion & Dinner with FLI faculty.” We had four faculty who were also first-gen or low-income tell their stories about going to college. We went up to the roof, and we had dinner with them. People didn’t even know these professors were FLI. People got to talk about their stories together. They talked about where they grew up, what happened when they went to college, how lost they were. The FLI identity is pretty invisible. Especially for FLI students, it is important to know there are FLI faculty on campus whom you can reach out to. There is someone that you can relate to.
TSD: What advice would you give to FLI undergraduates unsure of going to graduate school?
NRG: A lot of Ph.D. programs pay for you to go to school. They pay your tuition and they will give you money to live. Master’s programs sometimes don’t have much funding attached to them but it is common for Ph.D. programs to be fully paid for. I am not taking any loans. Get your feet wet in research and you might really love it, like I did. It’s totally fine to admit that you are new at research, that you do not know everything but that you are there to learn. Sometimes students shy away from research, but labs are all about training. You don’t need experience. It can also be ‘me-research.” I see myself in my research all the time. I see first-gen students who are struggling and who are really excited about stuff. I see how proud their families are. When I do the data analysis it all comes together for me. You can research what you are passionate about, something that you see in the real world. Nobody told me that I should study first-gen students. I chose that. You can be an academic and do the things you like to do. Sometimes we think of moving up and doing more school as selling out, as losing the connection with home. It has not been like that for me. I still chill with my cousins and my friends. You can be an academic, and you can be FLI.
TSD: Looking back, what would you have told yourself as an undergraduate?
NRG: Ask questions. When I was an undergraduate, I felt too stupid to ask questions. I thought people would see me as inadequate, that they would think I’m just some little Latina from the ‘hood. I knew that I liked research, but I would stay quiet and just do my work. If there were ideas that I did not agree with, I would stay quiet. Ask questions, and if you do not understand something, go to office hours. If you don’t know what to do to go to graduate school, ask questions. If we stay quiet, sometimes we don’t even know what we don’t know. That’s what I would tell myself. Trust your intuition. FLI students have so much real and actual experience that researchers crave, and we do not know it. I was a fourth-year student doing research and the professor leading the research would ask me about the results — why did you think that these Latinos felt this way? I would use my experience to explain. If you think that this is how you solve an issue or a problem, or that this is your interpretation from a book, say it. That’s a perspective that’s not often heard on college campuses.
Contact Miguel Samano at msamano ‘at’ stanford.edu