Martha Morales Hernandez

Martha Morales Hernandez, sociology graduate student, is the recipient of the 2023 Social Sciences Kathy Alberti Prize. The honor recognizes a graduate student who holds truly outstanding promise as a future professor or academic. Morales Hernandez, who earned her bachelor’s in sociology from UCI, pursues research on ways to better support and promote the educational success and wellbeing of undocumented college students. Below, she expands on her work and time as an Anteater.

What made you decide to pursue your current field of study, and specifically at UCI? What interests you most about your work?

As an undergraduate, I participated in UCI and statewide advocacy efforts to address systemic inequities experienced by our undocumented student community. To strengthen our advocacy, I recognized that research was critical to supporting the arguments we were making for undocumented student equity. Along with my peers, we approached a faculty member to guide us in our research. This led us to co-found the Undocumented Student Equity Project (USEP) with the intention of conducting research to inform institutional policies and practices that will advance equity and inclusion for undocumented college students. Our research findings not only facilitate advocating for direct resources for undocumented students at UCI but also at the UC level. Seeing the impact of research on policy, ultimately drove me to pursue a Ph.D. at UCI.

Tell us about your research. What problem will your findings help solve?

My research agenda aims to identify ways to better support and promote the educational success and wellbeing of undocumented college students. My dissertation project explores emotional distress and psychological wellbeing among undocumented college students in California and examines the actions students take to resist structural marginalization. Examining these complex processes between legal vulnerability and mental health will help identify potential mechanisms through which wellbeing and academic outcomes can be mutually improved. I am also a founding member of the Undocumented Student Equity Project (USEP) which is dedicated to conducting research to inform institutional policies and practices that will advance equity and inclusion for undocumented college students. As part of this team, I have co-authored seven peer-reviewed journal articles, all of which make critical theoretical contributions about the specific ways that immigration status functions as a source of social inequality. The project is also dedicated to identifying ways to better support and promote the educational success and wellbeing of undocumented college students. Additionally, I have worked closely with the UCI Dream Center to use research findings to inform program development, including the creation of a Scholar-in-Residence program and the Dream Project Fellowship, both of which support the professional development of undocumented students on campus. Currently, I am Co-PI on a project that will translate my dissertation research into a toolkit that campuses can use to promote wellbeing among undocumented students.

Where can your work be found if someone wanted to learn more about your research?

My work has been published in Journal of Latinos and Education, AERA open, Law and Social Inquiry, and Race and Social Problems. You could also read some of my policy reports published through the Undocumented Student Equity Project (USEP) at and the UC Collaborative to Promote Immigrant student Equity (UC PromISE) at

I also have a co-authored journal article that will be published in Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities later this year.

What organizations, foundations and others have funded your research while you’ve been at UCI? 

I have received support from the Ford Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellowship, Eugene Cota Robles Fellowship, UC Collaborative to Promote Immigrant and Student Equity (UC PromISE), and I recently was selected as a 2023 National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellow.

Give us a quick list of your Anteater accomplishments and activities.

National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship 2023-2024
UCI Inclusive Excellence Fellowship Summer 2022
UC Collaborative to Promote Immigrant and Student Equity (UC PromISE) 2020-2021
Graduate Student Fellowship
Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship 2020-2023
UCI Inclusive Excellence Ambassador Award Summer 2020

Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, Honorable Mention 2023
Faculty First Look Fellow, New York University 2023
California State University (CSU) Pre-Professor Program Fellow (PREPP) 2022
UCI Department of Chicano Latino Studies, Distinguished Service Award 2021
UCI Latino Excellence and Achievement Award, in recognition of Graduate Student Excellence 2020 

UCI Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) 2022
Graduate Student-led Research Team Grant ($8,000)
Project Title: A Resistance Approach to the Mental Health of Undocumented College Students

UCI Office of Inclusive Excellence 2022
Confronting Extremism through Community, Thriving and Wellness Project Grant ($25,000)
With Laura E. Enriquez (PI) Angela-Ru Chen (UCI DREAM Center), Martha Morales Hernandez (co-PI), Shaozhuan Li (UCI Counseling Center), and Iliana Arias (UCI Campus Social Work)
Project Title: Thriving in the Face of Anti-Immigrant Extremism: Building a Toolkit for Undocumented Student Wellbeing

Who have been your faculty mentors while here, and what impact have they had on your graduate career?

My faculty advisor and dissertation chair, Dr. Laura E. Enriquez has had an immense impact on my educational trajectory. Her mentorship has given me invaluable insight on navigating academia as a first-generation womxn of color. Her directed advising has allowed for me to grow as a writer and scholar. Further my dissertation committee members, Drs. Kristin Turney, Irene Vega, Rachel Goldberg, and Annie Ro have all been supporting and critical in advancing my own research.

When do you plan to complete your Ph.D.? What are your plans thereafter? How has UCI prepared you well for this role?

I plan to complete my Ph.D. in June 2024. My plans are to become a faculty member at a research-intensive university. As a professor I aspire to design and carry out research projects that not only inform theory but also policy and practice. I want to start research projects for undergraduates, like the one that I was a part of. Inspired by my mentor on USEP, I seek to be a mentor that encourages my students to draw from their experiences during their research process. My own mentor honored my experiences as an advocate for undocumented college students by allowing me to give input throughout the research process. I intend to empower undergraduate students that I work with to participate in all phases of the research to equip them to then draw on project findings to not only write academically but publish policy reports and inform program development. Ultimately, my mission is to become a professor whose scholarship advances theories of immigrant and minority health, but also informs efforts to address systematic inequalities to achieve meaningful social change. I aspire to be a scholar who actively works towards making the university a welcoming and just place, using my research to inform my service, teaching, and mentoring practices.


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