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Laura Rendón Establishes Award to Help Doctoral Students Cross the Finish Line

The CSHPE alumna reflects on the importance of giving back to help advance justice and equity in higher education

Laura Rendon
Laura Rendon (PhD '82)

“What would be helpful?” is the question that led Laura Rendón (PhD ’82) to establish an award for doctoral students who are finishing their dissertations. Although the award was established this year, it is that same sense of giving back that has driven her entire career as a scholar and educator. 

Rendón’s scholarly research examines the college student experience for first generation, low-income students.

“I am interested in those students for a number of reasons,” she says. “One is that they constitute a huge number that are entering higher education these days. They’re also among the most vulnerable student populations, many with food and housing insecurities. During the COVID lockdown they suffered the most—having ill family members at home and not having high-end technology. They typically don’t attend the best resourced schools with modern well-equipped labs, libraries, and well-credentialed teachers. What I would like to do with my research is [help] educators understand that they cannot compare students and say everyone is initiating their educational path at the same starting line, because that is a false notion.” At the same time, she notes, these students have “several unacknowledged assets, such as giving back, resistance, and perseverance.” They also have navigational ability, and are able to maneuver themselves in different contexts—especially those who have come from another country. “They have learned the English language and mastered what it is to live in the U.S.” She understands this population well because, as she says, “I was one of those students. I grew up in poverty. English was not my first language, my parents didn’t finish high school, or even elementary school.”

Rendón began her career in higher education in 1966 at Laredo Junior College. In 1979, after working as a teacher and administrator, she became the first in her family to enter a doctoral program. Her development of “validation theory” along with her book, Sentipensante (Sensing/Thinking) Pedagogy: Educating for Wholeness, Social Justice and Liberation, represent two scholarly contributions that transformed higher education scholarship on student development and teaching. Recently, Rendón’s extensive career accomplishments were recognized by the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) with the prestigious Howard R. Bowen Distinguished Career Award. 

“Michigan took a gamble on me,” she says of her acceptance to the SOE. “I will always be grateful for that opportunity to show what I could do. I hope that I have made Michigan proud. I’m certainly proud to be a graduate and to call Michigan my academic home. The Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education helped me become who I am today.”

When she asked CSHPE colleagues how she could be of help to current students, she was told that the final phase of completing their dissertations can be quite challenging. 

“That is a tough time,” says Rendón. “They’ve already finished all their courses. Sometimes they have spent their financial aid, and they’d like to have some time to finish without having to worry about covering the necessities of life.”

The Laura I. Rendón Dissertation Finishing Grant for Equity and Justice will provide funding to doctoral students who are researching topics related to justice and inequity in American society. 

“We have a number of issues to address in higher education, and that is why this award is for students who are researching topics related to justice inequity in American society,” says Rendón. “I hope these students will use this award and all of the preparation that they received to make an impact on society, to have a social justice consciousness in their work, and to feel empowered to eradicate the barriers that get in the way of more students becoming successful.”

Rendón ensured the impact of her gift by creating an endowment, which will serve to support students for years to come. Of the selection of Selyna Beverly as the inaugural recipient, Rendón says, “Selyna Pérez Beverly is just the right person to receive this award. She is the model of the equity and justice scholar we need in this era. I love her attention to teaching and learning in engineering with special attention to women who remain underrepresented in STEM fields of study. Employing an intersectional approach that considers racism and sexism will advance engineering education research and practice and will be useful in preparing more women to succeed in this field of study.”

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