Dr. Jeanett Castellanos views research as an integral part of student’s professional development. As such, she encourages the students she mentors to interact with their communities, develop relationships, expand their critical thinking abilities and pursue every possible avenue for growth. Her goal is for her students to become, not just better scholars and researchers, but better, more complete people as well. In return for her dedication and guidance, Dr. Castellanos insists that her students commit themselves fully to their research projects; without that complete investment she believes that students will not be able to experience the tremendous growth that a research experience can provide. During her career at UC Irvine, Dr. Castellanos has mentored more than 200 student research projects, demonstrating her continuing passion for her students’ growth through research.

1. How did you develop an interest in mentoring undergraduate research or creative projects, and what type of projects have you directed?

My interest in mentoring undergraduate students stems from my own experience as an undergraduate at UCI. As a first-generation student, I was blessed to have Dr. Joseph White lead the way in relation to scholarship and graduate school placement. Dr. White taught me the value of inquiry, critical thinking and research. Today, my research centers on providing students the opportunity to grow as scholars and develop their research interests.

To date, I have mentored over 100 students for UROP and have supervised over 200 projects. My commitment to mentoring and helping students gain a passion for research stems from my recognition of the power of research and scholarship. Reviewing past literature (and knowing the deficit approach many take examining racial ethnic minorities), I make it a responsibility to help students develop a strength-based research approach examining strength-based cultural values and practices. When students tell me, Dr. C, “research is not for me,” I help them identify their passion and provide direction on ways to examine an issue (empirically or phenomenologically). Often, the outcome is a strong interest in advanced studies and placement into a masters or doctoral degree program.

2. What do you look for and what are your expectations of undergraduates you select to conduct research under your guidance?

My undergraduate researchers are scholars in training for graduate school. I set very high expectations for my research team and do not find much room for students who are not interested in providing a 100% investment. As I invest fully in my students, I expect students to take the opportunity seriously and equally commit. Therefore, I expect my students to work weekly on the project, to visit me for guidance, and to work diligently in understanding the process. Students are part of the entire process under my guidance. It is not solely data entry or the process of a literature review. I include them in the conceptualization, the identification of the scales, and the rest of the process. In fact, many of my students are taught how to write syntax for SPSS and are highly recommended to complete a summer research program prior to their graduation (e.g., SAEP, SURP, IDSURE, SERP).

3. Describe your level of engagement and style in mentoring undergraduates.

My level of engagement is high and my mentorship style is student-centered. In particular, I make sure to set time aside for my students and I provide them guidance for their professional goals and their research. I help shape their scholar identity and I challenge the students to ask, “What will be my contribution to society” or “What legacy will I leave for my community?” My mentorship is intentional in shaping students to become critical and mindful thinkers and positive contributors to social change. I help the scholars understand the connection between theory, practice, and policy. It is not just a research activity to enhance thinking skills but a process to challenge the student and teach him/her the importance of contextualization and the value of understanding a process (not just the outcome).

An important note to consider about my mentorship style is the implementation of the psychosociocultural model in practice. As I work with each student, I assess their wellness, social support, and cultural understanding. In the process, I identify the multiple resources and offices across campus to start a mentorship network for the student to grow in various areas beyond research. Consequently, my wholistic approach facilitates better focus, stronger commitment, and a student scholar able to focus on advanced research processes (including deep structured analyses).

4. In your experience, how have your students improved or benefited as a result of their undergraduate research experience?

My mentorship helps students improve their analytical and critical thinking skills. I also work on their writing and professional development. As I aim to develop serious scholars with a passion for learning, I believe they attain a lifetime benefit in gaining an understanding of the connection between education and life purpose. My students are able to see the importance of their contribution as professionals and recognize the value of a strong set of tools to navigate the world post their graduation (and many post their graduate education).

5. What have you learned or benefited from guiding undergraduate research or creative projects?

My teaching and gains (personal and professional) have been abundant in guiding undergraduate research. Through my students in working on the various projects, I have learned the importance of human connection in mentorship. I have learned the role of family in education, the influence of peers in educational success and the impact of a mentor network on students’ progress. I have also gained insight regarding the added value of equipping young scholars with strong research foundation for their future. Last, I recognize the importance for the School (i.e. the School of Social Sciences and UCI) to set aside resources and funding for student scholarship and development. Today, my students would not have the same success in graduate education without these opportunities and the support of a campus community, deans, and other upper administration. It does indeed take a community to educate a student.

My personal and professional gains include the development of great professional relationships, invaluable opportunities to write and publish with many of my past mentees who have become faculty, and the personal satisfaction of seeing so many of my students accomplish their personal and professional goals, be socially conscious, and active in their communities.

6. What recommendations and advice would you give students embarking on undergraduate research or creative projects?

My recommendation for students embarking in undergraduate research is to seek out a mentor. Find opportunities to develop your scholarship identity, research skills, and writing. Do not take your time at UCI for granted. Use every opportunity to grow professionally and expand your academic portfolio. More specific directives include: explore your interests, identify a group that you want to assist and understand, and develop your own research agenda. Make sure to learn from faculty, explore their thoughts, build relationships, and learn the power (value/importance) of scholarship and research. Last, understand the importance of your involvement in community as it relates to research. You can only conduct research on what you know. Take time to invest in your community of interest, learn their strengths and their needs. Remember, a good researcher bridges theory and practice.

Research Interests: The premise of my research agenda primarily focuses on racial ethnic minority (REM) student experiences in higher education. Working consistently to validate the psychosociocultural (PSC) model, I examine REM student issues in higher education, their trajectories, and PSC factors that influence their persistence and retention. With a psychological emphasis, I study the REM (and particularly Latina/o) college experience with a unique cultural lens highlighting issues in areas in the literature that have received limited attention. Uniquely, I focus on understanding non-cognitive factors (vs. GPA or test scores) and psychosociocultural processes influencing academic persistence. As the literature takes a deficit approach on REMs or focuses on cognitive factors (e.g., GPA) or the output (e.g., graduation), I take a strength-based approach reviewing the dimensionality of educational processes while examining students’ strength-based values and beliefs (spirituality, educational ganas [motivation], and academic family).

Faculty Profile: http://www.socsci.uci.edu/ssarc/castellj/

Email: castellj@uci.edu

Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '12 James C. Earthman
Nov. '12 Kenneth J. Shea
Oct. '12 Jeanett Castellanos
Sep. '12 Barry Siegel
Aug. '12 Martha L. Mecartney
Jul. '12 Brandon Brown
Jun. '12 Wayne Sandholtz
May. '12 Farghalli A. Mohamed
Apr. '12 Susan T. Charles
Mar. '12 Katherine Faust
Feb. '12 Donald R. Blake
Jan. '12 Elizabeth Cauffman