How did you end up at Rice?
I’m originally from the Coachella Valley in California and I always thought I would stay in CA, but then I got an email from Rice saying that they would waive my application fee. To be honest, I had never heard of Rice before and when I got the email, it made me laugh because as a Latina I eat a lot of rice, so I thought to myself “Can you imagine going to a school named Rice?” The idea was funny to me - but then I started looking into Rice and I realized that it was actually a really great school, so I decided to apply! On top of being a great school, Rice offered me the best financial package, so I thought it was the best option for me. I also thought that if I moved out of state, it would help me grow as a person and become more independent, so I ended up coming to Rice.
How did you decide on Sociology?
I came to Rice as a Bioengineering major, because my mom had breast cancer and I wanted to do breast cancer research, but it was really tough that first semester. When I talked to my mom and told her about how I was struggling, she said “I know, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons! You should do what you love.” So for my second semester, I branched out and took Sociology 101 with Dr. Werth and Sociology of Religion with Dr. Considine, just to get division requirements out of the way. During the second semester of freshman year and the first semester of sophomore year, I changed my major from Bioengineering to Math, then to CAAM (Computational and Applied Mathematics), and back to Math. I liked both Math and CAAM but I was not enjoying them as much anymore and I couldn’t see myself pursuing an advanced degree in math, so I asked myself which courses I was enjoying the most. Then I took Sociology of Inequality with Dr. Lopez Turley, and I realized that not only was I enjoying my sociology courses the most, but I could make changes and potentially help people by doing sociology.
How did you decide that Sociology was going to be not just a major, but also a career?
About the same time I decided to major in Sociology, I applied for the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program
, which helps underrepresented minority students. We meet every single week, and we have a fall conference where we present our research. The fellowship supports our research, and we have mentors to help us. They want to make sure we’re on the right path to a PhD, and that we end up getting to our goals with a supportive community. I also talked to Dr. Chavez at that time (second semester of sophomore year), and told him I was thinking I might want to do a PhD, and he was very supportive, he said “Yes, we’re going to get you doing research, we’re going to get you into a great graduate school.” His response and the affirmation I got by being accepted by the MMUF got me really excited, and I’ve felt very sure this is what I’m supposed to be doing ever since. Personally, my mom got to 6th grade, and my stepdad graduated high school, but they never went to college. I never knew anything about PhD programs until I got to Rice. I love the idea of being able to teach and pursue research at the same time.
How did you decide which area of research to focus on?
I think the School of Social Sciences does a great job of providing students with great opportunities. Through their listserv, I found out about an REU program at Texas A&M, focused on social inequality. I applied and was accepted, so over this past summer, I worked with Dr. Nancy Plankey-Videla
. We worked with day laborers and asked them about their experiences. I ended up looking at non-Hispanic US citizens within the informal day labor market, because I found it really interesting that they often didn’t have the limitations usually associated with day laborers, like limited English proficiency, lower education levels, and legal status limitations. My most interesting finding was that non-Hispanic, White US citizens had the highest arrest rate in the group. Despite that, they were the most likely group to have a second job within the formal labor market. So I think this is an interesting extension and application of Devah Pager’s work on the mark of a criminal record
. For my senior honors thesis, I am looking at the housing situations of day laborers in Houston and how it affects their wellbeing. After pursuing this research, I am even more sure that I want to be a professor – I love the idea of being able to teach and conduct research for my career. Not only do I want to be doing research that will be published, but I want to be helping these marginalized communities. The idea that I can talk to them and make sure that their issues and difficulties are known is great. I want to be able to help communities, as well as my future students.
Who is your favorite professor in the department?
That’s really hard! I’m not going to answer Dr. Chavez
, because more than a professor, I see him as a mentor. So my favorite professor has probably been Dr. Besbris
for Social Theory. Honestly, before I took this class I always kind of felt like a misfit, like I didn’t belong in sociology. His class was very difficult! We had a lot of challenging readings, but I would go to class and Dr. Besbris would break down complicated texts in ways that I could understand. I really admire him because he’s so young and so intelligent. I’ve gone to his office hours and I just think to myself, “Wow, this is how I want to be when I’m in his position.” For the final paper for his class, I wrote about different theorists’ perspectives on why Latino immigrants go into precarious jobs. Writing that paper was so difficult, but so rewarding. That paper actually got me accepted to my REU program! His class really changed my life, and now I feel like I belong in the sociology department.