Higher Ed doctoral student wins prestigious fellowship

Nydia Sanchez, a doctoral candidate in the College of Education's Higher Education program, was recently awarded the National Academy of Education Spencer Dissertation Fellowship for the 2016-2017 academic year. According to James Duban, UNT associate dean for research and national scholarships, Sanchez is the first UNT student to win a Spencer fellowship directly from the National Academy of Education.

The Spencer Dissertation Fellowship is a highly competitive program. Sanchez was one of 35 scholars chosen to receive the fellowship out of nearly 400 applicants. The $27,500 fellowship is awarded to individuals who are conducting dissertation research related to education, and it supports students whose dissertations show potential for bringing new perspectives to the history, theory, analysis or practice of formal or informal education anywhere in the world.

For her dissertation, Sanchez plans to investigate the complex factors that influence college aspirations and the development of college knowledge for Latino students and families living in a Texas border-town community. According to Amy Fann, Sanchez's professor in the Higher Education program, these communities are representative of some of the poorest and most educationally underserved counties in the nation.

During the study, Sanchez will qualitatively explore how academic capital is transmitted and co-constructed in informal and everyday spaces, and the ripple effect this activity has on the educational uplift of Latino communities. In order to closely examine and understand the operation of processes and networks that are used to develop academic capital, Sanchez will interview Latino Gates Millennial Scholarship Program (GMSP) Ambassadors, as well as a subset of families and the school/community educators they have served. Since Sanchez is a former GMSP ambassador herself, her study design is informed by her own experience and the experiences of her GMSP peers who have been engaged in informally transmitting academic capital at the community level.

Receiving the Spencer Dissertation Fellowship award is not the only notable achievement Sanchez has accomplished during her time at UNT. In the past, she has received the 2015 Graduate Fellow Award from the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education and the 2013 American Education Research Association (AERA) Carlos J. Vallejo Research Fellowship, and she served as a graduate fellow for the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education in 2012.

She currently serves as the campus liaison for the AERA Graduate Student Council and has served as a community scholarship ambassador for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation since 2004. She also founded the UNT Latino Graduate Student Association, and has worked with faculty, administrators and students across campus to co-coordinate several events and programs, such as UNT's first-ever Raza Graduation in the spring of 2012.

Sanchez's past accomplishments and most recent success demonstrate her dedication to the Latino community in the field of higher education, Fann said. Fann believes that Sanchez will continue to further the access to and equality in higher education over the course of her career, specifically for the Latino community and other communities of color.

"Nydia is preparing for a career (in higher education) and has, without a doubt, incredible promise as a scholar who will make long-term and significant contributions to educational theory, policy and practice relevant to postsecondary access and equity, writ large, for Latino and other communities of color," Fann said.