For Latino students with their sights set on a career in academia: the goal may be clear, but the pathway — not so much. Addressing these concerns is challenging for educators, staff and mentors when providing the support students need.
Salvador Hector Ochoa, provost of San Diego State University, visited Arizona State University as the Graduate College Distinguished Lecture keynote speaker ealier this month.
Each year, the Graduate College Distinguished Lecture series brings a leading scholar to engage the ASU community in discussion about the advancement of graduate education as a public good. Speakers examine how to attract, nurture and inspire future generations of advanced learners who will foster opportunity and well-being in their communities.
“With the distinguished lecture series, the Graduate College convenes discussions about how to create equitable outcomes for all graduate students,” said Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate College Elizabeth Wentz. “Dr. Ochoa’s personal story and professional trajectory are inspiring. As a first-generation college student who achieved tenure and is now a provost, he has valuable advice to share with our students,” said Wentz.
Ochoa has been the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at San Diego State University (SDSU) since July 2019. Before moving to SDSU, Ochoa was a professor and dean of the College of Education at The University of New Mexico, and also served as the dean of the College of Education at The University of Texas-Pan American. Ochoa earned a PhD from the School of Psychology at Texas A&M University in 1989. His research focuses on bilingual psychoeducational assessment and educational programming issues of Latino students, on which he has offered input at the state and national levels.
At this year’s lecture, Ochoa discussed ways that underrepresented students can prepare for a job in an academic setting and how universities can help them attain graduate degrees.
His lecture, “Promoting Success from Undergraduate to Graduate Studies to a Career in Higher Education,” focused on tips for Latino students to excel as they enter higher ed, build their dossier and work toward the tenure track. Following his speech, he answered audience questions facilitated by Lisa Magaña, provost fellow for ASU’s Hispanic-serving initiatives and associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
With over 30 years of experience in academia, Ochoa has watched the trajectory of ASU closely as it has grown into national prominence.
“I was pleased to speak to graduate students who might want to enter higher ed. I think they’re at a very exciting place. The university has done a lot. My colleagues in higher education always want to see what is going on at ASU,” he said.
At his home base, San Diego State University, Ochoa mentioned several initiatives for the upcoming year — most notably that SDSU is on the cusp of becoming an R1 institution. Because of that shift, Ochoa mentioned how crucial it is to respond to the needs of the local community, state and region. “We want to be a different kind of (Hispanic-Serving Institution); we want to focus on HSI in research,” Ochoa told the Graduate College.
“As an HSI and part of the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities, ASU also has a responsibility to create a diverse set of students who pursue graduate school and then join the professoriate,” said Wentz.
During the Graduate College Distinguished Lecture, the topic of responsibility took center stage. Ochoa presented ways faculty can assist underrepresented students pursuing a career in academia. According to Ochoa, one of the main ways to start a positive shift is to identify potential among students. He posits that encouragement can go a long way.
“I have found that when working with undergraduate and master’s students, you have to pull them aside and tell them they can (do something),” Ochoa said.
He also shared the steps that students can take when preparing for an academic job prospect: researching the institution, rehearing answers to common questions and having adequate references.
Concerning doctoral students specifically, Ochoa had numerous tips on maximizing the chance of a successful placement. He advocated strongly for finding a mentor that fits both personally and professionally, and asking that individual to help you negotiate salary packages. He advised that applicants heed caution when picking a dissertation committee and should look for a team that can work well with their chair.
Another takeaway was the importance of establishing a solid record for teaching.
“Get as many teaching opportunities as possible. It looks very good to have a record of teaching when looking for your first academic job. Also, if there is coursework available in college teaching, take those courses and get the certificate. It is important because I see students with a research record but little or no teaching experience, which is very high-risk,” Ochoa explained.
Ochoa went on to cover more tips for students and those who have reached tenure track. He gave additional advice on interpersonal skills, finding a team of external reviewers, and best practices when establishing a weekly writing and research practice.
Given the vast amount of insight provided during the distinguished lecture, Ochoa wanted to leave the audience with one primary takeaway: “In terms of your career, never underestimate what is possible. As time goes on, you will achieve things you never thought were possible when you first started. You have to be open to different opportunities and possibilities in life.”
Watch the full lecture on the Graduate College’s YouTube channel.