The Marco Antonio Firebaugh Scholars Program is a collaboration between the Office for Graduate Diversity, Graduate Division, Graduate School of Education, the Chancellors Advisory Committee on Student Services and Fees, and faculty mentors across disciplines at UC Berkeley. Firebaugh Scholars are UC Berkeley undergraduate students who receive funding and academic support to design and complete an independent faculty-sponsored research project over the course of one academic year; we also prepare scholars to apply to graduate school and post-baccalaureate opportunities in hopes of continuing to diversify the faculty and researchers at colleges and universities across the United States.

The application to join the 2021-2022 Firebaugh Scholars cohort is now open and accepted until March 19, 2021!

Application and additional information can be found here

2021-2022 Academic Year Eligibility
Firebaugh Scholars must:

  • Plan to graduate in May 2022 or later
  • Be undocumented/AB540/DACA formerly incarcerated, and/or system-impacted scholars
  • Demonstrate interest in research and pursuing graduate school
  • Provide a complete application, including a brief research proposal and two letters of recommendation, and
    be enrolled at UC Berkeley and available to take a 1-unit P/NP research seminar
  • Recruitment period: January 2021

Sign up to learn more about the Firebaugh Scholars Program.

For additional information or to set up an informational meeting, contact Jessica Mena Flores at or scheduled office hours.

Meet the 2020-2021 Firebaugh Scholars:

James Carlin

“The Final Solution”; or, what is the ameriKKKan Carceral for?

As a rule, when a flu-infected person(s) transfers into a flu-free situation at San Quentin State Prison and the result (oddly) is that the inmates in San Quentin are infected with the flu, can it be assumed to be the case that the flu comes from the transferred inmate(s)? Moreover, who might be to blame if we have historical evidence that this did happen in 1918 and yet the same scenario played out again earlier this year with over three-quarters of the population becoming ill and 28 dying.

Faculty Advisor: Fang Xu, PhD

Undergraduate Major: Interdisciplinary Studies Field

Erika R Castaño

Undocumented Women: An Analysis of Undocumented Women Working in Restaurants in the Bay Area

Erika Castaño’s qualitative research project seeks to explore the barriers, challenges, strains, and unexpected problems that are presented to self-identified undocumented women. By examining the experiences of undocumented women who work in restaurants, this study will document and assess how they relate to larger discussions revolving around immigration reform or policy recommendations. This research and its findings will help further understanding of undocumented women who work in restaurants within the Bay Area, and as it relates to their experiences of uncertainty with the economy, and policy debates.  More importantly, Castaño’s research may provide us with much-needed insight about related research suggesting that has guided the debate about how undocumented women are significantly marginalized when looking for jobs, seeking assistance, and therefore staying on precarious jobs to support their family members, not only in the United States but in Latin America.

Faculty Advisor: Cybelle Fox, PhD

Undergraduate Major: Sociology, Socio-Cultural Anthropology minor

Jose Cisneros

Food Insecurity and the Rise of COVID 19

Food insecurity, the concept of measuring the availability of food and individuals’ ability to access it. In 2019, 89.5% of households in the United States were food secure throughout the year, the other 10.5% are left without security. Although the difference percentage wise does not seem all that high, the total population in 2019 was 328.2 million, and about 34 million people were food insecure. The concept interests Jose because the rate the insecure was already at an extreme number. 2020, a year that took an unexpected turn no one was prepared for. COVID-19 causes a world shut down, leaving so many people dependent on food resources left to struggle, where the number increased of people insecure with food insecurity, to 50 million people, and 17 million were children. Jose’s interest settled upon if those kids in the statistic were proportional to a school district.

Faculty Advisor: David Harding, PhD

Undergraduate Major: Sociology and Spanish


Saida Cornejo Zuñiga

Entrepreneurial Illegality: Exclusion and Resilience in Undocumented Entrepreneurship

Saida’s research examines the relationship between entrepreneurship and illegality. She explores how some undocumented migrants generate their income through entrepreneurship. Undocumented entrepreneurs are part of high barrier and low barrier industries, but their undocumented status leaves them vulnerable to policing and wage theft. Their vulnerability as migrants places them outside the traditional image of who an American entrepreneur represents, which presents a set of challenges that otherwise goes unnoticed. Saida seeks to answer how illegality impacts the opportunities and lack opportunities for undocumented entrepreneurs and the strategies they employ to navigate these limitations. In order to answer these questions, she draws on semi-structured, in-depth interviews with undocumented entrepreneurs in low barrier industries, such as construction and domestic work. Her findings are important because they contribute to reshaping our understanding of who an entrepreneur is and reveals how undocumented entrepreneurs, despite the impact of their illegality, are resilient and circumvent obstacles.

Faculty Advisor: Pablo Gonzalez, PhD

Undergraduate Major: Legal Studies and Ethnic Studies

AnDrea Crawford

The Power of the Neurodiversity Movement and African American children

A core principle of neurodiversity is that conditions such as autism, in AD “H” D, and so on, are “real” neurological in nature.”  These bureaucratic systems are not fully capable of assessing the needs of black and brown people and creating resolution. As a result, revolutionary reform has taken place that would include the neurodivergent movement.

Faculty Advisor: Mao-Mei Liu, PhD

Undergraduate Major: Legal Studies

Jessi Fernandez

Cultural Tattoos: How Distinction & Stigma Operates in Racialize Communities

Jessi Fernandez’s multiple case study will use a cultural lens to understand to what extent, if at all, cultural symbols, such as tattoos, operate as a form of identity construction for Latinx males in Los Angeles, California. Additionally, how these tattoos influence the reciprocal interactions between gang-involved individuals, other members of their communities, and society-at-large. Once individuals identify and label one’s differences, stigmatization is commonly attributed to the person. Social interactions are impacted when explicitly focusing on tattoos as a criminalized construction of tattoos’ influence. Various discussions, including researchers and known sociologists’ ideas, show the effects on individuals and society largely through the case study and qualitative data collected on tattoos’ stigmatization. Following an in-depth analysis and discussion, this study hopes to contribute to ending labeling and normalizing tattoos as personal preferences and not an indicator of the individual’s identity regarding criminality. Jessi Fernandez’s case study will significantly impact the sociological understandings of stigma and culture.

Faculty advisor: David Harding, PhD

Undergraduate major: Sociology

Prentiss Mayo

How suitable is American schools for African American students?

This research examines the suitability of American schools for African American students. In America wealth is usually associated with education excluding those with extraordinary talents. The flourishing of this country is largely due to the dehumanization of enslaved Africans and their descendants. During the failed reconstruction attempt African Americans desired their own autonomous schools out of fear of trading one form of white supremacy for another. Historically, American pedagogy for African Americans has been limited to cultivating laborers. White teachers make up 90% of American K-12 teachers and bring a long with them implicit bias, racist attitudes and tendencies. At the same time schools disproportionally treat African American students as criminals in their disciplinary practices procuring the school to prison pipeline. Yet, provide little in the form of cultural knowledge in their pedagogy.  Utilizing in depth interviewing I can engage with parents regarding their school experiences related to race and their racial identity and how has their experience in the American school system influence their life including parenting strategies. This data will add to the cultivation of equitable pedagogy, encouraging student engagement leading to the normalization of African American students pursuing higher education.

Faculty Advisor: Laleh Behbehanian, PhD

Undergraduate Major: Sociology

Lizette Nuno

Hidden Costs: The Extensive Reach of Carceral Institutions

Lizette’s research study seeks to explore the financial costs of having a family member incarcerated, to better understand the expenses associated with staying connected and supporting the incarcerated person once in contact with the criminal justice system. Lizette’s research will contribute to discourses regarding mass incarceration and investigate the hidden costs families pay before, during, and after their family member’s imprisonment.

Faculty Advisor: Jonathan Simon, PhD

Undergraduate major: Legal Studies and Ethnic Studies

Stephanie Rodriguez

Illegality and The Queer

The Immigrant’s rights movement and overall discussion around the immigrants’ rights movement has been centered around heterosexual identities. Because of such, identities and experiences out of the box of heterosexuality have been forgotten. My hope and arguably the most important one is to give the spotlight to undocumented queers and let them say their truth in a way that is authentic for them and share how does being undocumented and queer influence the way in which you express your sexuality.

Undergraduate major: Sociology

Shani Shay

Effective ways to raise the self-esteem of high-risk youth

Black and brown students are funneled into the prison system and low wage jobs through tracking. Tracking widens the achievement gap, and Shani views research as an avenue to combat this form of systemic oppression. Shani used her studies inequitable research methods to identify effective teaching methods for students most likely affected by tracking and double segregation. The work of Kremer’s 2019 study of 252 juvenile students in Western Pennsylvania juvenile institutions found that 87% of juvenile offenders have high educational aspirations. In contrast, Ziedenberg and Holmans’ report on 591 juvenile institutions found that incarcerated youth are more likely to drop out of college, less likely to receive a degree, and have increased lifetime poverty rates. This information motivated Shani to hone in on the strong correlation between students’ educational aspirations and students’ ability to obtain their desired quality of life. Shani implemented her innovative multicultural, antiracist curriculum by developing a college outreach program, Incarceration to College, in the Martinez Juvenile hall. Shani’s research will focus on teaching methods that effectively increase incarcerated youth’s educational aspirations because this research is essential to policy, teaching methods, and positively impacting those involved.

Faculty Advisor: Tolani Britton, EdD

Undergraduate major: African-American Studies Minor in Education

Dustin Wallace

Preserving Data Privacy in Private Prisons

Corrections contractors are providing increasingly sophisticated technology to the corrections industry and to those incarcerated, such as tablets and messaging services. Prison contractors are not subject to Freedom of Information Act obligations, and both the industry and the contracting process are inherently opaque. It is not difficult to imagine a private company that benefits from mass incarceration while also harvesting data from the incarcerated population will ultimately analyze that data to advance their industry, justify their existence, and profit from misery.

Faculty Advisor: David Harding, PhD

Undergraduate Major: Data Science