Laura Enriquez, assistant professor of Chicano/Latino studies, and Julia Lerch, assistant professor of sociology, have been named recipients of National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowships. The UCI scholars are two of only 30 researchers in the nation to be awarded the prestigious honor in 2020 which supports early career scholars working in critical areas of education research.

“I am absolutely thrilled that two UCI social science professors have received this prestigious award” says Bill Maurer, dean of social sciences and professor of anthropology and law. “Their work is more important than ever, demonstrating as it does that our universities and schools are not just teaching our kids, but more broadly contributing to social and civil belonging, with implications for the future of U.S. and global democracy.”

Enriquez studies the experiences of undocumented young adults who immigrated to the United States as children. Her book, Of Love and Papers: How Immigration Policy Affects Romance and Family, explores how immigration policy is reshaping Latino families as illegality creeps into the most personal aspects of everyday life, intersecting with gender to constrain family formation. She currently leads two related initiatives – the UC Collaborative for Immigrant and Student Equity (UC PromISE) and the Undocumented Student Equity Project (USEP) – both dedicated to collaborative research to identify best practices for advancing educational equity for undocumented students and students from mixed-status families. Enriquez received her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles. She is a former Ford Foundation Predoctoral (2008) and Dissertation (2013) Fellow, and UCI Chancellor’s ADVANCE Postdoctoral Fellow (2014). With NAE/Spencer funding, she’ll study how immigration policy creates unequal education outcomes for college students who are undocumented immigrants and/or have undocumented family members, and what educational institutions can do to intervene.

"I'm very excited to bring together a decade of my work on undocumented college students,” Enriquez says. “It's a great opportunity to provide an overview of how far we've come in advancing equity and inclusion for this group, and how far we still need to go. I hope that it will motivate future change in higher education and beyond." 

Lerch studies changing ideas about the role of schools and universities in society and how these shifts manifest in education systems around the world. Her dissertation examined the growing institutionalization of education as a core pillar of international responses to humanitarian emergencies. She explored how this shift not only broadened the boundaries of humanitarian aid – historically focused on survival – but also expanded the objects of education from long-term development to emergency relief. In a second line of research, she has studied shifting portrayals of society in educational curricula worldwide, using data coded from school textbooks on topics such as nationalism, diversity, and human rights, as well as internationalized study programs at universities. Lerch received her Ph.D. in education from Stanford’s Graduate School of Education and holds an M.Sc. in international development from the University of Amsterdam and a B.A. in philosophy, politics and economics from the University of Oxford. With funding from the NAE/Spencer fellowship, she’ll research threats to academic freedom and higher education access arising from the broader anti-liberal trends currently sweeping the world (such as declines in democracy and re-assertions of nationalism).  

“The fellowship allows me to push my own work into new directions, and to expand our knowledge on the impact of current anti-liberal trends on universities,” Lerch says. “My hope is that the project will help draw attention to the alarming instances of decline in academic freedom we are seeing in many parts of the world, and generate more research on the topic.”

The one-year fellowship includes three professional development retreats and a $70,000 stipend that allows the scholars to focus fully on research.

-Heather Ashbach, UCI Social Sciences,






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