Education doctoral student wins national dissertation fellowship

University of North Texas doctoral student Nydia Sánchez has won the prestigious National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship for the 2016-2017 academic year. Sánchez was one of 35 winners out of a pool of nearly 400 applicants and is the first UNT student to win the award.

Barrett Taylor, Sánchez's faculty mentor, is an assistant professor of counseling and higher education. He said receiving the fellowship marks Sánchez as one of the top students in the country.

"This is a highly competitive national award," Taylor said. "To secure it, Nydia competed far beyond UNT. She stood toe-to-toe with students in education, the social sciences, policy analysis and other interdisciplinary fields that study education, and she emerged as one of the best in the country."

Sánchez's dissertation is on Latino border town students from Texas who are part of the Gates Millennium Scholars Program. The working title of her dissertation is "Educational Uplift Along the U.S. – Mexico Border: How Students, Families, and Educators Cultivate a College-Going Culture in Contested Terrain."

Sánchez herself is a Gates Millennium Scholar from a border town – Brownsville, Texas. She said her personal experiences inspired her research.

"I never knew my experience growing up on the border was different until I went away for college," she said. "It was not until I was in graduate school that I reflected on its significance in my educational trajectory."

Sánchez first became interested in the field of higher education after helping her siblings get into college. As an undergraduate student, she invited her sisters to live with her during the summer semesters – a tradition that continued with her brothers. During those months, she took them on road trips to visit different universities.

"I like to tell people that my fate in higher education was written in the stars the day my little brother was born" she said. "Studying higher education formally was an outgrowth of a very real, practical need to help my siblings and other low-income, first-generation college students like me get to college."

Sánchez received her Bachelor of Science in economics from Texas A&M University – College Station. She continued her studies at UNT, receiving a Master of Science in higher education, and she is now working on her Ph.D. in the same field.

When asked what she wants to do after she receives her Ph.D, Sánchez said she wants to continue to conduct research and write about issues of access and equity in higher education.

"This fellowship is a great honor and privilege," she said. "It means a lot to me because I have been given the gift of time to sit down and use my words to paint a picture of these students, their families and their community."