Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program | July 8, 2013 | Spotlight

CSULA student finds inspiration from personal experience

Ochoa selected to participate in summer research program to investigate Latino parents’ attitudes about preschool

Photo of Wendy Ochoa at UC Irvine.

Many young children, who mainly speak their native language at home, often have to overcome certain struggles when first entering elementary school.

They may feel at a loss, alienated or even frustrated due to their limited English proficiency.

These are the challenges that Cal State L.A. student Wendy Ochoa, who grew up as a second language learner and from a low-income family, hopes to explore further in her graduate research.

“My desire is to help improve the academic experience of young bilingual children,” said Ochoa, who recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from CSULA. “I want to learn how their language development, along with other early experiences, may play a role in their academic achievement.”

While an undergraduate student, Ochoa had the opportunity to delve into the study of how Spanish-speaking children learn English as part of Professor Kaveri Subrahmanyam’s Media and Language Laboratory at CSULA. In her analysis, she recalls her own experience struggling to understand directions in school, let alone homework assignments, even as an older elementary school student.

Under the mentorship of Subrahmanyam, Ochoa presented her comprehensive research at various workshops and conferences. She is currently working on a project on language mixing (often called code switching) in Latino dual language learners.

“Ochoa’s research on language mixing is one of the first to examine this phenomenon among young Latino dual language learners, and her results will be important to understanding the relation between language mixing and subsequent fluency in both languages,” said Professor Subrahmanyam. “I am so proud of what Wendy has achieved and look forward to her continued growth as a researcher.”

A Dean’s List student, Ochoa is a part of the University’s Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) training program, which is aimed toward increasing the pool of well-prepared minority undergraduate students who can successfully compete for positions in top graduate programs. She is a member of the CSULA chapter of the Psi Chi Honor Society and a recipient of the William Hobson and Evelyn Troup Scholarship. Additionally, she is first in her family to attend and graduate from college.

Photo of Wendy Ochoa buys at work in the lab.

This fall, Ochoa will be enrolled in the psychology graduate program at CSULA and will have the chance to continue her research.

Ochoa has also been selected to participate in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program at the University of California, Irvine (UCI).

The SURF program offers diverse undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to work closely with faculty mentors on research projects and provides an intense eight-week course of graduate preparation workshops. All participants will present either an oral or poster presentation of their research during the SURF Summer Research Program Symposium.

“Through the program, I will be partnering with a UCI faculty to investigate Latino parents’ attitudes about preschool for their children,” said Ochoa, who wants to develop ways to improve these children’s experiences, which may directly affect academic performance.

Another related project Ochoa may work on is developing appropriate questionnaires for the Latino community. She said, “Both of these are essential in capturing early experiences of young bilingual children.”

Ochoa feels privileged to be able to take part in the UCI SURF program, where she will be exposed to varying perspectives and different research methodology.

“I am looking forward to not only expanding my knowledge on the bilingual population, but also being exposed to different approaches to studying this population,” Ochoa shared. “When I return to CSULA in the fall and begin the master’s program, I hope I can integrate all of the knowledge I obtained at UCI and incorporate it into my research project.”

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