UndocuScholars Research Team

The research team was a group of graduate students, post-graduate scholars and professors at UCLA (Robert Teranishi & Carola Suárez-Orozco) who dedicated their time to shedding light on the undocumented student experience through scholarship and education. Through this project, they committed to enhancing understanding, providing information to the community, and striving to act as agents of change.

The team worked closelt with the UndocuScholars Advisory Board — a team made up of members from community-based organizations, researchers, and undocumented college students.

Co-Principal Investigators

suarez-oroscoCarola Suárez OrozcoPhD

Carola Suárez-Orozco is a Professor of Human Development and Psychology at UCLA. Her books include: Learning a New Land: Immigrant Children in American Society , Children of Immigration,Transformations: Migration, Family Life, and Achievement Motivation Among Latino Adolescents and The New Immigration: An Interdisciplinary Reader.

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teranishiRobert TeranishiPhD

Robert Teranishi is Professor of Social Science and Comparative Education, the Morgan and Helen Chu Endowed Chair in Asian American Studies, and co-director for the Institute for Immigration, Globalization and Education at UCLA. His research is broadly focused on race, ethnicity, and the stratification of college opportunity. His work has been influential to federal, state, and institution policy related to college access and affordability. Read More

Research Team

alcantarCynthia Alcantar, Doctoral Student

Cynthia’s mission to increase the college access and attainment of ethnic minority students, passion for research and mentoring students, and aspirations to become a professor are driven by her personal experiences as a low-income first-generation college student, as well as past professional and research experiences. Prior to coming to UCLA, Cynthia worked with various college outreach programs such as Upward Bound at Norco Community College, the McNair Scholars Program at Claremont Graduate University, and the STEM Program at Mount St. Mary’s College in California. Each outreach program works with low-income, first-generation college students. Her past research experience was on college preparation access for working class students and college access for indigenous Mexican students. Cynthia obtained a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Psychology and minor in Sociology from the University of California, Riverside in 2007 and a master’s degree in Higher Education from Claremont Graduate University in 2009. She then went on to pursue her doctorate degree at New York University in Higher Education and then transferred in her third year to continue her doctorate at UCLA in her third year.

ayalaAlicia Ayala, Master’s Student

Alicia Ayala is currently a second-year master’s student in Human Development and Social Intervention at New York University. She is interested in how academic engagement influences educational trajectories of immigrant-origin emerging adults. While working in community based organizations she became passionate about empowering new immigrants and providing them with resources to navigate and thrive in the U.S. She believes it is important to understand the experiences of undocumented students in college because they are a young and growing population that will continue to shape and contribute to our society. She hopes to one day become a professor and provide mentorship and guidance to students to increase the pipeline of underrepresented students in higher education. In addition, she aims to continue to conduct research, work within the community and promote awareness about issues surrounding immigration policy and reform.

benduzuCyndi Bendezu Palomino, MA

Cyndi Bendezu Palomino is currently Assistant Director of the UCLA McNair Research Scholars Program. She graduated from Teachers College, Columbia University with an M.A. in Higher and Postsecondary Education. She is interested in finding ways of connecting undocumented students with information and resources to access higher education. As a former undocumented college student herself, she understands the issues facing undocumented students. However, she is aware of the changing political climate and needs of undocumented youth. She hopes to one day become a professor or work in Student Affairs to help enact policy change and do research on underrepresented students to increase access and retention in undergraduate and graduate school. In addition, she aims to continue to conduct research and participate in community organizing work in the Los Angeles area.

cassanovaSaskiass Cassanova, PhD

Saskias Casanova is an adjunct faculty member at the Department of Applied Psychology at NYU and at the School of Human Services and Education at Metropolitan University. Prior to this, she was an Academic Diversity Postdoctoral Faculty Fellow in the Department of Applied Psychology at NYU. Dr. Casanova’s two lines of research consist of 1) exploring the experiences with stigmatization of minority students in higher education and 2) examining the identity development of diverse immigrant origin adolescents and adults. Saskias uses an interdisciplinary approach to examine psychological and behavioral processes, and educational outcomes of immigrant and minority youth. Dr. Casanova’s research has revealed that Indigenous Latina/o adolescents have different psychological and cultural experiences when compared to non-Indigenous Latina/o adolescents. She is very interested in exploring the development of a DREAMer social identity as it related to the civic engagement of undocumented students and to the redefinition of what citizenship means to immigrant origin youth. She believes it is our civic responsibility to create awareness around issues they face due to their status and correct misconceptions created by uninformed social representations in our media and politics.

graciaNidia Gracia, Master’s Student

Nidia Gracia is currently a second-year master’s student in the Human Development and Social Intervention program at New York University. Nidia plans to continue conducting research in a doctoral program, where she plans to obtain a Ph.D in a psychology-related field. Nidia hopes to become a professor and be a positive role model for her community, family, and future scholars, especially minority first-generation students like herself. She also works as a teaching assistant for an undergraduate research methods course and a research coordinator at NYU. Nidia firmly believes in helping others, and thus always lends a helping hand to students who need advice or help applying to college. Nidia was born to Mexican parents with little education but immense drive and determination. They pushed her to explore any and all of her interests to the fullest. Nidia enjoys learning about different cultures and studying how an individual’s culture influences their success. She hopes to develop methods to facilitate minority, first-generation students’ academic mobility and bring awareness to others of this population, their cultures, and their rising presence in higher education.

hernandezEdwin Hernandez, Doctoral Student

Edwin Hernandez is a doctoral student in Social Science and Comparative Education at the University of California, Los Angeles. Edwin earned his Master’s degree in Bilingual School Counseling from New York University. As a guidance counselor and mentor for community-based organizations in New York and California he became aware of the multitude of challenges undocumented students encounter and has been devoted to advocate for this growing population. His research interests include youth culture, transition from high school to college, resilience, persistence and educational attainment of underrepresented students in college. He states that there are several misconceptions about the growing population of undocumented students, and institutions need to be aware of their experiences to create better practices and support systems that will aid them in their educational trajectories.

katsiaficasDalal Katsiaficas, Doctoral Candidate

Dalal Katsiaficas is a doctoral candidate in the Human Development and Psychology program in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. Prior to coming to UCLA in 2012, Dalal completed her B.S. and began her doctoral studies in the department of Applied Psychology at NYU Steinhardt’s School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. While there, she worked closely with Drs. Carola and Marcelo Suarez-Orozco and Robert Teranishi on their project, Research on Immigrants in Community Colleges. Her research interests broadly include the identity development of immigrant-origin adolescents and emerging adults. Dalal has worked with diverse immigrant-origin populations in a variety of settings including recently arrived immigrant high school students, young adults in community college and college settings. As both a researcher and an adjunct professor, she began to see the struggles that many of her students faced in balancing the competing responsibilities of work, school, family and community. She worked locally within her institutions to help her students navigate the educational system, but wanted to do more. Her dissertation focuses on understanding the types of competing responsibilities that immigrant-origin students face in community college settings with the hopes of informing change in institutions to better meet the needs of their students.