Liberal Studies Professor Estela Godinez Ballón , has won a $12,000 Faculty Fellowship Award from the Haynes Foundation for her research on Latinas in higher education. Her research project will focus on understanding the experiences of low-income, first-generation college Latinas so that institutions can better serve them.
“I selected this research topic based on my own life experiences,” said Ballón. “My journey in higher education was a long one because I wasn’t provided the kind of knowledge I needed as a first-generation, low-income college student. Even though I graduated in the top of my high school class, I don’t recall learning about what college was or how to apply. I ended up starting at community college because my brother decided to go with his friends and I didn’t know what else to do. Eventually, I learned about majors, degrees and something mysterious to me called transferring.”
Ballón transferred from Grossmont College in El Cajon to San Diego State University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology. She went on to earn a master’s and a doctorate degree in sociology from UCLA.
“Even though eventually I achieved a Ph.D., it was a long road with lots of twists, turns, and unintended pathways in higher education,” she said. “Many first-generation college students rely on their schools for guidance and support. When schools don’t provide that knowledge or don’t provide it in ways accessible to first-generation students, it doesn’t help them.”
For her study, Ballón interviewed 16 Latina doctorate recipients.
“For this research project, I sought out Latinas who achieved high levels of education that were low-income, first-generation college students and started in community college. I was interested in learning more about how they arrived at college in the first place and how they were able to transition from community college to a 4-year institution and then again to a doctoral program,” she said.
When California recovers from Covid-19, Ballón plans to present her work at educational conferences and convene a panel on Latinas in higher education. She is currently analyzing her interviews, but before the pandemic, she had already presented preliminary findings at the California Sociological Association conference. The ultimate goal of her research is to help students with similar backgrounds succeed in college.
“Dr. Ballón’s work will have an impact far beyond the confines of Cal Poly Pomona,” said CEIS Dean Jeff Passe. “She is an exemplary leader.”
Ballón came to Cal Poly Pomona in 2002. Prior to CPP, she taught courses at UCLA and Pitzer College. Her scholarly interests include K-12 education, first-generation students, Chicanx studies, Latinx studies and service-learning. She is the author of “Mexican Americans and Education: El saber es poder,” which critically examines educational opportunities among Mexican American students.