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Sarah Ovink Awarded National Science Foundation Dissertation Grant for 2008-09

Sarah Ovink has been awarded $7500 in funding through the NSF Dissertation Improvement Grant program. The National Science Foundation's Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS), Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES), and Division of Science Resources Statistics (SRS) award grants to doctoral students to improve the quality of dissertation research. These grants provide funds for items not normally available through the student's university. Additionally, these grants allow doctoral students to undertake significant data-gathering projects and to conduct field and archival research in settings away from their campus that would not otherwise be possible.

Sarah will use these funds during the data-gathering and analysis phase of her dissertation, tentatively titled “Mexican-Americans and the College Attendance Gap.” In this dissertation, Sarah examines the divergent post-secondary pathways of Mexican-American high school students. Mexican Americans are one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population, and also have one of the lowest high school graduation rates and the largest gender gap in high school attainment. These realities severely restrict the group’s potential for college attainment, though more so for males than females. Sarah’s dissertation research examines the influences, motivations, aspirations and expectations of Mexican-American students and their potential contribution to gender disparities in their postsecondary pathways. She investigates the following research questions, with an emphasis on understanding gender differences in processes, mechanisms, and outcomes: 1) What are the educational motivations, aspirations and expectations of Mexican-American high school seniors? 2) What factors (including incentives and resources) lead Mexican-American high school seniors to choose a college-bound path? 3) What mechanisms can account for the formation of college aspirations? 4) What do Mexican Americans perceive as the returns to college completion? Do differing perceptions lead to differing aspirations and expectations?

In the first phase of this project, Sarah is interviewing 51 Mexican-American students attending high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. Interviews take place at three time-points as the students progress through their senior year and transition to their postsecondary educational or labor force careers. Sarah will use these qualitative findings to build a more comprehensive model of Mexican Americans’ postsecondary pathways and evaluate the generalizability of the model using the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS). With this mixed-methods approach, she will be able to illuminate some of the important processes and mechanisms that result in a female educational advantage for Mexican-American students at the national and local levels.