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Producing Outstanding Scholarship

Dr. Cinthya Salazar

Dr. Cinthya Salazar (she/ella) is an Assistant Professor in the  Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development of the College of Education & Human Development at Texas A&M University and an Accountability, Climate, Equity, and Scholarship (ACES) Fellow. We spoke to Dr. Salazar about the inspiration for her research on the mechanisms used by undocumented students to access and succeed in higher education.
What inspired your research on the mechanisms used by undocumented students to access and succeed in higher education?
Dr. Salazar shared that inspiration for her research on the mechanisms used by undocumented students to access and succeed in higher education comes from professional and personal influences. “I was inspired as a higher education administrator at Georgetown University prior to my doctoral education,” Salazar said. “I spent a lot of time and energy with students of color and undocumented students who shared with me the barriers they experienced on campus and outside of the campus.”
Dr. Salazar decided to examine the mechanisms used by undocumented students because she identified with the barriers. “I am an immigrant and someone who was formerly undocumented,” Salazar said. “Knowing that I went to college and graduated in spite of barriers resonated with my goal to understand and inform practice in higher education.”
Texas A&M student, Mariana Hernandez Quiros, and Dr. Salazar were inspired to create a College Guide for Undocumented High School Students in Texas in April 2022. “The resource guide has important information on how to apply to college and resources available to support the postsecondary pathways of undocumented students,” Salazar said. English and Spanish versions of the resource guide are available.
Were you surprised by your research findings?
Dr. Salazar shared that her research found that some institutions have a reputation of being very welcoming and friendly to undocumented students but did not meet the needs of the students. “We need to move away from being just an undocumented student friendly institution,” Salazar said. “We need to become undocumented student serving.”
Dr. Salazar interviewed undocumented students to find out what undocumented student serving means. “I interviewed a student who was in college for 8 years at the time and had not completed 90 credit hours,” she said. “He was seeking to attend that institution because it was an undocumented student friendly environment. However, completing the degree was taking longer than expected and his mental health was affected. Undocumented friendly perception doesn’t necessarily translate into the needs being met on the student level.”
Why is it important to study the mechanisms used by undocumented students to access and succeed in higher education?
Dr. Salazar shared that as a result of undocumented students’ immigration status there are several factors that impact retention and graduation timelines. “It is really important to pay attention to how we are fulfilling our responsibility when undocumented students are admitted,” she said. “My research goal is to create localized retention strategies that are contextualized to what is happening on a specific campus. The strategies are important to inform practice because not every strategy for retention, access, and success is going to work in the same way. Strategies that are implemented to target localized contexts and that look at specific subgroups are important.”
What future work is planned?
Dr. Salazar will study what success looks like for undocumented students as they graduate and transition from college. “As scholars, we have many questions about what happens next,” she said. “How are they making meaning of what they can do? How are they perceiving the opportunities or challenges that they may have after graduation?”
Dr. Salazar shared that future research will focus on expanding views on what success looks like for undocumented students. “In higher education, how are we preparing, serving, and meeting the needs of undocumented students so they can transition out of college? We have career services, but that is very different for undocumented students who may not have the same employment authorization but still need to find other ways to generate income.” 
What do you like to do in your free time?
Dr. Salazar enjoys to cook, watch movies, and exercise during her free time. “I am Peruvian and vegetarian,” she said. “I like to be very creative and spend time creating home-cooked dishes from different styles of food. I also like to bike on my Peloton and listen to fun music in Spanish during some of the classes.”
Recently published journal articles
Salazar, C. (2022). Participatory action research with & for undocumented college students: Ethical challenges and methodological opportunities. Qualitative Research. 22(3), 369–386. 10.1177/ 1468794120985689
Salazar, C. (2021). “I knew it was gonna be hard, but I always knew I had support from my parents”: The role of family on undocumented students’ college aspirations and persistence. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice. 10.1177/ 15210251211018826
Salazar, C. (2021). We are friends? Navigating relationships with undocumented college students as co-researchers in participatory action research. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 34(8), 715-732. 10.1080/09518398.2021.1956622
Follow Dr. Salazar on Twitter @csalazarphd | Email:

Media contact:
Crystal S. Carter
Communications Specialist