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#WhatStartshere: Jesus Olivo, Higher Education Researcher

image of student in jean jacket Meet Jesus Olivo, a 2017 College of Natural Sciences graduate who took his undergraduate research to the next level in the McNair Scholars program. During his time on the Forty Acres, he focused his research on the state of Latinas in U.S. higher education.  This fall he’s heading to Denton, where he will continue investigating this understudied field of research at the University of North Texas.

Activities: Intellectual Entrepreneurship (IE) Pre-Graduate Internship program; IE Kuhn Scholar; McNair Scholars program, Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence

Finding the leaks…During his time in the Mcnair Scholars program, Olivo probed into a gaping disparity in higher education: the lack of Latina administrators. “We know that Latinas are no longer minorities in colleges, but they’re still not represented. The question is, where are the leaks? Why isn’t the Latino/a community growing in higher education—and why aren’t they graduating at higher rates? Is it because there aren’t enough Latina/o administrators encouraging them to finish?”

Sí Se Puede…  “As a first-generation Latino college graduate, I can tell you that it’s important to address the lack of Latino/a leaders in higher education, particularly in student affairs. When students of color see someone who looks like them in a successful position, it gives them the sense that they, too, can be successful. In my community, we have this motto: Sí Se Puede. In translation, “Yes we can!”

Opening access…In the future, Olivo hopes to see more forward-thinking administrators, particularly Latinas, making policy changes in colleges and schools across the nation. In addition to serving as role models, they could also eliminate the structural barriers that are keeping students of color from pursuing their dreams. “In my household, college is considered a luxury. So we need more Latino/as in administrative roles making policy decisions that could make college more accessible and also reshape how specific ethnic groups look at education.”

Getting his feet wet…Last fall, Olivo traveled with his fellow McNair Scholars to Long Beach, California, where he presented his research at an academic conference. The experience solidified his decision to help bridge racial disparities in higher education. “I feel like this is a big challenge—but it’s a fun challenge. There’s always going to be questions without answers, especially since our country can be unpredictable when it comes to progressive changes.”

Fostering inclusion…When the Monarch Student Program opened up in the Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence, Olivo jumped at the chance to help build upon its services for undocumented students at UT Austin. As the student lead, he created campus partnerships that offer an array of free resources, including mental health services and professional development workshops. In addition to being a resource center, Olivo says the program provides a sense of community among students who often feel like imposters. “A lot of these students feel that our society doesn’t accept them. So it’s important to give them this space where they can talk about what they’re feeling. We might come from different backgrounds, but we all have common threads.”

Life after UT… Olivo will continue championing access and inclusion at the University of North Texas, where he will pursue his graduate studies in higher education and also lead diversity initiatives for the Division of Housing.