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Spotlight on Laura Carrillo: Sociology PhD Student and TGS Diversity and Inclusion Intern

Modified: April 15, 2015

Working toward a PhD is a full-time job, and being a parent is another. Laura Carrillo, a third-year PhD student in the Sociology department and mother of a seven year-old, acquired a third job: The Graduate School’s Diversity and Inclusion internship.

“I was interested in [the Diversity and Inclusion internship] because I’ve personally benefitted from these sorts of programs,” said Laura. “I was a McNair scholar at DePaul, where I did my undergrad; in middle school I was part of the GearUp program, which helped me get a small scholarship during undergrad.” Her first-hand knowledge of the power of programs dedicated to increasing representation of low-income, first-generation minorities in college and graduate school inspired Laura to look for an opportunity to work in diversity and inclusion at Northwestern.

“I emailed departments, expressing my interest in some sort of internship that dealt with students on a first-hand basis. I can do that to some extent as a TA, but this way we can interact without a power differential, on a student-to-student basis,“ Carrillo said.

As The Graduate School’s Diversity and Inclusion intern, Laura has the opportunity to work face-to-face with students from Northwestern and other universities. She will also be helping with some of TGS’s programming, including Introduction to Graduate Education at Northwestern Days (IGEN) and the Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP).

“I was really excited about the opportunity to work firsthand on things like IGEN and SROP,” said Laura, who participated in a summer research program at University of Chicago. “I also get to meet with McNair Scholars who visit from various universities, particularly during the Chicago Metropolitan Exchange Program (CMEP).” Held in mid-July, CMEP sees Northwestern collaborating with other local institutions to host a group of McNair Scholars interested in pursuing going to graduate school.

Laura’s work as the Diversity and Inclusion Intern ties in with her research interests in the Sociology department. She works with her advisor, Mary Pattillo, on issues of inequality, race and ethnicity, education and, as a subfield, inequality in education. More recently, she added, she has been moving toward working with Latino/a populations to investigate this issue. Laura wrote her second-year paper on housing choice and constraints among low-income Latino/as in Chicago.

As a double major in sociology and public policy at DePaul, with a minor in political science, Laura was drawn to Northwestern’s Sociology program because of the possibility of interdisciplinary research. She was told about the possibility of working with the Institute for Policy Research (IRP), and the opportunity to take classes in other departments, which she found particularly appealing The department itself was also home to different methodological approaches to the field: Northwestern’s Sociology department faculty use a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods in their research.

Working with the administrators at TGS on diversity and inclusion programming is also relevant to Laura as she considers a career in higher education leadership. “My ideal job would be a hybrid of both,” she said. “I would be able to teach one or two classes and also work as an administrator.”

A career that involved teaching was always Laura’s goal. “Coming from a neighborhood that maybe isn’t so hospitable to advancing in school, I was influenced by my teachers,” she said. “I had two of the best middle-school teachers in the CPS program, Mr. Dolansky and Ms. Dudek; even though we were low on books and supplies, they managed to use their own money to make copies, and organized presentations and assemblies. Part of Ms. Dudek’s legacy was the creation of the International Baccalaureate program in our middle school; she was practically doing that on her own.”

“I feel like circumstances could have been a lot different had I not had those teachers,” she said, adding, “That’s the main reason I want to be a professor: I’m driven by the idea of mentoring and giving back.”

Laura’s internship and TA work have given her opportunities to mentor and give back to other students, and her research has allowed her to study issues of inequality on a larger scale. In addition, however, Laura has a third focus: her son.

“I volunteer at his school,” Laura notes. “I divide my time between my role as a PhD student, the Diversity and Inclusion internship, and being an active mom. When I tell my son that I want to be a professor, my son asks me, ‘So you’re going to be smarter than my teachers?’ I tell him, ‘they have a lot more experience than I do.’ I try to make him understand the work that his teachers do, so that he could be more grateful for it.”