The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Mahala Stewart, Rodrigo Dominguez Villegas and Yolanda Wiggins awarded 2016–2017 CRF Dissertation Fellowships

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The Center for Research on Families has announced the seven recipients of this year’s student research awards, three of which are sociology PhD students. The program provides support to undergraduate and graduate students in all disciplines of study and acknowledges outstanding student research on issues related to families.

Mahala StewartMahala Stewart was awarded a $10,000 dissertation fellowship. Mahala has a Graduate Certificate in Advanced Feminist Studies and a MA in Sociology from UMass Amherst. Throughout her graduate studies, Mahala has focused on issues of inequality within the intersections of American families and schools.

Under the guidance of her advisor, Professor Joya Misra, Mahala’s dissertation offers a new angle for interrogating social inequalities. She focuses on schooling logics across homeschooling families and their conventionally schooled counterparts. Through intensive interviews with white and black middle-class mothers of children who home school and go to public school, her dissertation will investigate mothers’ raced schooling logics, and how they compare across school type. Despite the recent increase in the number of homeschooling families, debates focused on schooling inequities do not interrogate the rise in homeschooling, or how the choice to homeschool relates to inequalities seen across families.

Rodrigo Dominguez VillegasRodrigo Dominguez Villegas is receiving a $10,000 pre-dissertation award to continue his research on families who return to Mexico after living in the United States. Rodrigo’s mentor is Professor Jennifer Lundquist. Rodrigo’s primary research interests include international migration, economic development, and public policy analysis. He is also an independent consultant for the Migration Policy Institute in Washington D.C. where he has written policy reports on international migration in North and Central America, return migration, and Mexico’s migration policy.

Yolanda WigginsYolanda Wiggins is receiving a $5,000 pre-dissertation fellowship to continue her work on college experiences of black students and black families. Throughout her career, Yolanda has focused, published, and presented at national conferences and meetings on the experiences of black college students attending predominantly white colleges and universities.

Under the mentorship of Professor Naomi Gerstel, Yolanda will use this award to continue her exploration of the experiences of black college students and the ways in which the black family “reaches” into college. Using two complementary data sets — intensive interviews with 51 black women and men and a National Survey for Student Engagement (NSSE) experimental family module — Yolanda will investigate the ways in which black college students engage in a balancing act of academic responsibilities and family obligations. Yolanda’s research will uncover the strategies that black students employ in efforts to maintain family ties, their continued giving while away at college, and the pathways by which they succeed, or not, in degree attainment.

For more information about the Center for Research on Families and the Student Awards Program go to