As appearing in | Feb., 2022 | by Melanie Chaffey

CSU staff members and School of Education doctoral students named 2022 Policy Fellows for the Colorado Department of Higher Education

Fabiola Mora and Mary Ann Lucero already had a lot in common: they’re both passionate about equitable student success, as shown by the fact that they both serve in leadership roles in the Colorado State University Academic Advancement Center. They’re both first-generation college graduates and are currently doctoral students in CSU’s School of Education earning their Ph.D. in Education and Human Resource Studies in the Higher Education Leadership (HEL) Doctoral Specialization Program.

Now, they share one more accomplishment: both being named 2022 Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) Policy Fellows.

Being named a CDHE Policy Fellow is a great honor and opportunity, as only a handful of graduate students from all higher education institutions in Colorado are chosen each year. The Fellows learn from each other and higher education leaders regarding CDHE’s role in Colorado education and research one social determinant of student success, presenting their findings to the CDHE Commission.

Read on to find out more about Mora and Lucero’s work for the AAC, what they’re researching as CDHE Policy Fellows, and their experiences in the HEL Doctoral Specialization program!

‘A privilege’ to work in the AAC

Mora serves as the director of the AAC, which includes two federally funded, TRIO Student Support Services programs as well as an institutionally funded student success program.

“Collectively, the AAC serves students who have been historically excluded from higher education,” said Mora. “I have the privilege of providing leadership for an incredible team that is passionate about approaching their work through an asset-based and equity-centered lens.”

“The most rewarding aspect of what I do is working with and advocating for students who are minoritized by race, class, ability, citizenship, and first-generation status in higher education at the local, state, and national levels,” Mora continued. “I approach my work through a critical, intersectional lens to push towards equity, justice, and liberation.”

Lucero serves as the associate director for STEM Student Support Services, meaning that she manages the everyday operations of a STEM grant, the purpose of which is to serve students in the STEM disciplines who are low-income, first-generation, and/or have documented disabilities.

“The most rewarding part of my position is having the opportunity to journey alongside AAC participants through graduation,” Lucero said. “It is a privilege to be on this journey with students.”

Because so much of the AAC’s funding comes from the TRIO programs, which originated from The Higher Education Act of 1968, Mora and Lucero note federal legislation and the confines of the TRIO legislation as some of the most challenging aspects of their work.

“Centering the experiences of AAC student populations and engaging in equity, justice, and liberation work is challenging within institutions that were not historically built with AAC students and these values in mind,” Mora said. “While this work can be challenging, I enjoy working together with students to transform these spaces so that they can exist and thrive here.”

Gratitude for the HEL Doctoral Specialization program

The HEL Doctoral Specialization program, coordinated by associate professor in the School of Education Susana Muñoz, is a 60-credit doctoral degree committed to principles of equity and inclusivity that leads students to a Ph.D. in Education and Human Resource Studies. Mora and Lucero both express tremendous gratitude for the opportunities, challenges, and insights the program has provided them, particularly regarding its principles that align closely with their own.

The program is enriching Mora and Lucero’s understanding of higher education practices, challenging them to apply a critical lens when changing the systems and cultures that surround the students they currently serve.

“The HEL faculty and the 2020 cohort have been the collective group that I needed in a doctoral program,” said Lucero. “As a collective cohort of scholars, we have a commitment towards humanity, while equally challenging each other to live out our commitment towards justice. I’m grateful that the HEL faculty also center this commitment in their research and within their pedagogical approaches.”

“My pursuit of a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Education and Human Resource Studies with a specialization in Higher Education Leadership is about transformation,” said Mora. “The Ph.D. will help me work toward my goal of transforming and decolonizing higher education systems. It has challenged me to continue decolonizing myself and will prepare me for leadership roles where I can influence policy, contribute to research, and help me push organizations to do liberation work.”

Research into social determinants of student success

As CDHE Policy Fellows, Mora and Lucero have a great responsibility to the students they serve in the AAC, as well as the greater student communities of CSU and Colorado, to conduct thorough, accurate research that will inform state-wide policies of higher education.

Mora is part of the caretaking research group and will be contributing to CDHE information regarding the needs of caretakers at Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) in Colorado.

“We will use this research to understand how caretaking impacts student success in higher education,” she said. “This research will be used by CDHE to inform policy and best practice recommendations of IHEs in Colorado.”

Lucero is part of the group researching racism’s impact on student success in post-secondary education.

“My research group will specifically focus on the implications of racism on students’ success and belonging, which will be presented to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education in April,” said Lucero.

On being named one of the 2022 CDHE Policy Fellows

The opportunity to create real change in higher education practices within Colorado is very close to the hearts of Mora and Lucero, who have dedicated their lives to nurturing the academic careers of marginalized students. In addition, the issues that the CDHE Policy Fellows study are issues Mora and Lucero have contended with throughout their lives.

“As a first-generation college graduate, a Latina, someone who had a child in college, someone who grew up undocumented and limited-income, student success work rooted in equity is deeply personal,” said Mora. “It is an honor to participate as a CDHE Fellow and bridge my personal and doctoral work with policy work.”

It’s also an excellent way for Mora and Lucero to put the skills they have acquired from their work in the AAC and their experiences in the HEL Doctoral Specialization program to use, and to see the fruits of their labor in the real world.

“I am especially excited for the opportunity because it allows me to learn more about statewide policy role, development, and application,” said Lucero. “Additionally, I will also have the opportunity to further explore my own research interest related to how racism contributes to the racial stratification on student success outcomes.”

They hope to gain an in-depth understanding of policymaking at the state level, how research shapes that process, and a knowledge of the issues that are currently being discussed by the Colorado Department of Higher Education along with those that are left out of the present conversation.

Mora and Lucero also hope to contribute their devotion to student equity and personal lived experiences to the bounty of shared understanding that is crucial not only to the CDHE Policy Fellows program, but to CSU and Colorado as a whole.

“I feel like this fellowship experience extends an opportunity for me to contribute to the essential work that the state and CSU student success initiatives are doing to center racially minorized students,” said Lucero.

“I am passionate about advocacy and creating more just and equitable environments so that all students can be successful, and I believe this passion ignites a fire within me to engage in transforming educational spaces,” Mora said.

The School of Education is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.