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June 14, 2004

Award-winning grad student combines research with work in community

By Scott Rappaport

Christina Morales holds the distinction of being the first person in her immediate and extended family to attend a four-year college.

Christina Morales is the second Latina graduate student in UCSC’s History Department to be awarded a $69,000 Ford Foundation Predoctoral Scholarship for Minorities.
Photo by Scott Rappaport

Profiles of other outstanding UCSC students are available online at http://www.ucsc.edu/students/profiles/

She also happens to be the second Latina graduate student in the History Department at UCSC to be honored with a $69,000 Ford Foundation Predoctoral Scholarship for Minorities.

The award is given each year to only 60 students across the country who have “demonstrated superior scholarship and show the greatest promise for future achievement as scholars, researchers, and teachers in institutions of higher learning.”

Growing up in a low-income community in Gilroy, California, Morales was actively involved during her high school years in MECHA, the community-oriented student organization promoting education on issues involving Mexican Americans. As an undergraduate at Santa Clara University, she spent time volunteering at local public elementary and high schools, tutoring and helping ESL students. She also worked with student groups on campus to promote diversity education and programs to recruit students and faculty of color.

During her senior year, Morales served as director of the Santa Clara University Multi-Cultural Center, supervising eight student organizations, as well as a staff of 15, and dealing with everything from programming and budgets to training and legal issues. After graduating with a B.A. in history, she spent a year working for Mujeres Pueden, a welfare-to-work program in San Jose, where she served as case manager for Mexican American single mothers on public assistance, helping them to become employed and self-sufficient. She also applied to three doctoral programs in history, ultimately choosing to come to UCSC.

“I had heard good things about Latino and Latina scholars here,” Morales recalled. “UCSC was also the only place where the faculty called me and students e-mailed me prior to my acceptance—it seemed really inviting. They expressed interest in what my research interests were, and I felt like it was going to be a good fit.”

Last year, Morales completed her master’s thesis on the forced sterilization of Chicanas that took place during the 1970s. During her first year at UCSC, she continued her involvement in the community, working with teenage daughters of incarcerated women for the Girl Scouts of San Jose. She now works part-time for Project HIRED, a Santa Clara nonprofit organization that helps disabled individuals find sustainable employment.

The three-year Ford Fellowship, which begins this Fall, will enable Morales to focus completely on her research. Her upcoming dissertation project will examine the repatriation movement to expel the Mexican community from the United States during the Depression of the 1930s. “My goal is to look at how the migratory process affects the development of communities, personal, and national identities,” she explained.

The foundation will also provide Morales with an invaluable, all-expense paid trip to a national conference of Ford Fellows--offering her the opportunity to network with her peers, attend career advancement workshops, meet with representatives from university and academic presses, and interact with established and emerging scholars in a variety of fields.

Although her ultimate aspiration is to become a university professor, Morales definitely plans to continue working in the community, well aware of how much her volunteer and work experience has come to shape her research interests.

“I’m really interested in issues of education—one of my goals is to be involved in university policy and serve on school boards,” Morales said. “I would also like to be able to mentor students in the future,” she added, “because I had such a positive experience with professors who mentored me.”

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