The PhD Student Experience

Our graduate students are working to change the world one research project at a time. They come to us from all over the world to engage in research that deepens knowledge and practice in education.  

Here are a few of our graduate students, discussing their experiences in the Education Doctoral Program, their research interests, and their commitments to educational justice and equity.


    Charley Brooks

  • photo of student at historical site
    Before I came to UC Santa Cruz, I was teaching world history and English in San Francisco. I taught in multiple schools—the city’s juvenile hall school, a comprehensive public middle school, and finally a small charter school. While I was teaching, I was constantly bumping up against larger philosophical questions I had about what it meant to teach history and where the histories I taught really came from.

    Ultimately, what drew me to Santa Cruz was the personal attention from faculty. Even before starting my program, I spoke with a variety of faculty members and graduate students from all different fields who offered me advice and support in making my decision. I could tell that mentorship was a priority and that my work, however much it varied from my faculty advisor’s, would be nurtured. This impression has borne out during my time at Santa Cruz thus far.

    I study social studies education and teacher preparation and am interested in questions about what histories are taught in schools, to whom, and to what effect. I am especially interested in how the histories taught vary based on demographics, commitments, and identity in terms of students, teachers, and communities. Inherent to the teaching of history are issues of race, racism, and whiteness. To study these topics, I utilize qualitative methods including critical discourse analysis which helps to reveal ideologies that underpin language use that are not necessarily evident on the surface. I find that this method is particularly useful in locating whiteness, which is frequently obfuscated especially within historical narratives that are taught in schools and present in textbooks. I’m also interested in developing pedagogical strategies that foster critical awareness and interrogation of power embedded in taken-for-granted historical narratives.


  • Salvador Huitzilopochtli

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    I was born and raised in Berkeley, CA, where I also did my undergraduate work. Before coming to UC Santa Cruz, I worked as a math teacher for 10 years. I taught mostly Algebra in middle school in the Bay Area. 

    My research goal is to document ways that language, as our most powerful tool, can be leveraged to support students as they learn mathematics; more specifically, algebra. Algebra has long been viewed as a "gatekeeper" course that limits matriculation to advanced mathematics courses and higher education for students, especially those from non-dominant communities. Broadening possibilities for student participation and success in algebra courses is central to my research and career goals.

    I was brought to this work because of my experiences in mathematics education as a student, parent, educator, and a member of one of many communities that have historically been underserved. All students deserve the opportunity to have good instruction and curricula so that they can meet the challenges that their futures might bring. I will do what I can to find and foster more equitable practices and I am uniquely positioned to do so.


  • Andrea Del Carmen Vazquez

  • student smiling in nature

    I’m a Black Latina and a native of South Central Los Angeles. Like many people from my communities, both my parents migrated from Latin America and as such Spanish is my first language. I’m also the first in my family to receive a college degree, even though many of my relatives are far more educated in ways I will never be! 

    As an Anthropologist of Education, I’m interested in the topographies at the intersections of racial identity, sexuality, and the late liberal state. In particular, I'm interested in learning how schools created ideas of "safety" and "safe spaces", and how this informs queer Latinx youth's antiracist and antihomophobic practices. Queer youth of color are still invisibilized within Education Studies. When education inquiry centers queer youth, traditionally, this is done in regards to bullying and mental health and the research highlights the experience of white queer youth in urban spaces. My ethnography seeks to uncover the agency of queer youth of color from an agro-industrial community with a rich history of migration and social activism.

    I chose to do my doctoral work at UCSC because I knew it had amazing scholars within education studies, and in the social sciences more broadly. In addition, UCSC has a long and deep history of critical scholars who paved the way for those of us who are concerned with any deviations of power. I knew I wanted to be part of that academic genealogy.


  • Ethan Chang

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    I’m a critical sociologist of education and former middle and high school Social Studies teacher. My research examines the intersections of policy, place, and race in struggles to redress inequities of educational opportunity. I’m also interested in collaborative, community-based methodologies that emphasize participatory approaches to inquiry.

    This orientation toward research stems from my personal upbringing and prior teaching experiences. Before grad school, I was trying to make sense of why many of my White and Asian private school friends became dentists and lawyers, whereas many of my Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students had limited access to these career pathways. I couldn’t have articulated this at the time, but I was developing sociological questions about what schools do and the ways schools tend to rationalize existing relations of power and privilege.   

    My dissertation asks these very questions about power, opportunity, and inequality through the case of digital technologies. To offer a few examples, in one paper, I argued that state and corporate actors tend to resource digital education reforms that deflect attention to past and present racial inequities. This color evasive approach is concerning given a policymaking consensus about digital technologies as a panacea for the racial “achievement gap.” My current work extends this line of sociological inquiry to recent struggles over Ethnic Studies. Throughout my PhD journey, mentors and colleagues at UCSC offered invaluable support and continue to guide how I approach my research and activism beyond the program.


  • Kim Vachon

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    I have worked as a classroom teacher and as a counselor and therapist. Many of the stories of struggle I heard from my students and clients were directly related to systemic issues in schools and housing, embedded with racism and keeping poor folks poor. After working as best I could from my position as a teacher, counselor, and advocate, I felt strongly pulled to find a way to contribute at a more systemic level. Working as a researcher in education under faculty who perceive teaching and research as a political act, contributing to knowledge production and teaching others who will go out to be the next generation of teachers feels like the most valuable work I could possibly do.

    I am interested in the relationships between identity, teacher preparation, and teacher effectiveness with diverse student populations. Specifically, my work focuses on how pre-service teachers become aware of their subjectivity or positionality within their teacher education programs (TEP), how TEPs and policies engender this awareness and how teacher educators interrogate notions of whiteness within TEPs. UCSC supports this work in that I am able to consult with multiple faculty members within the Education department and in other departments (such as Sociology). Furthermore, the social justice orientation of the program encourages a critical lens, especially around issues of equity within schools. 

    Being a part of this PhD program has broadened my horizons, pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged growth in all directions. I feel greatly supported by my advisor, who has sought out teaching and research opportunities for me, and the department's faculty and staff who have encouraged me to follow my interests and supported my academic growth as a writer and researcher.