Graduate College Summer Doctoral Research Fellowship: Vanessa Núñez

Vanessa Nunez

Vanessa Nunez, Sociology Ph.D.

Aug. 20, 2019
Researching for more than academic consumption, sociologist takes an active role in impacting the population she studies. 

Before she even considered a Ph.D. program, Vanessa Núñez helped students navigate higher education as a site counselor for GEAR UP, an organization that strives to provide low-income students and families guidance in preparing for college, and then as an academic advisor at UNLV.

“One of the first conversations I had with an undocumented high school student sparked my sociological interest in understanding barriers to education and ways to ameliorate them,” said Núñez. 

During her master’s program, her interest grew thanks to her involvement with UNLV’s UndocuNetwork, a student organization that supports undocumented students, TPS recipients, refugee students, UndocuQueer students, Afroimmigrants, AIP immigrants, and other immigrant students at UNLV. In that time, she worked alongside the organization to find out more about the resources available to, and the experiences of, undocumented college students.

During the last two years of her Sociology Ph.D. program, she is focusing her research on the ways faculty and staff influence policy changes at UNLV, specifically relating to undocumented students. Thanks to receiving one of more than 60, $7,000 Summer Doctoral Research Fellowships from the UNLV Graduate College, Núñez was able to further her research this summer. 

Who are the faculty members advocating for undocumented students? Why and how do they do it? Is there any biographical information that helps them relate to the students they are advocating for? These are all questions Núñez set out to answer. 

“The changes on this campus have typically happened due to student pushes, but faculty are instrumental in helping things happen,” she said. 

Not much research regarding undocumented college students comes from Nevada, even though 7.2% of Nevada’s population is undocumented compared to the 3.5% national average. 

“Nevada doesn’t have a lot of research on this,” said Núñez. “I’ve gone to conferences in California to learn how they navigate different processes and that has been helpful. It’s important to highlight how we are working as institutions to help our students.” 

With UNLV being the most diverse campus in the nation, Núñez’s research is relevant. 

“Thinking about the political climate we are in, it’s important to highlight the good work that is being done by undocumented students, folks supporting undocumented students, and the population as a whole,” said Núñez. 

In addition to presenting the findings to various institutions, Núñez plans to apply her research to make higher education more accessible to undocumented students within UNLV.