Maria Pimentel

Maria Pimentel

Camarillo, Calif., Dec 14, 2016 — Educating immigrants will strengthen a labor force in the long run by providing them with better skills and higher incomes. Further, Latino immigrants who arrived as children seem to fare even better with an education than children born in the U.S of immigrant parents.

These were conclusions from a sociology research project that won CSU Channel Islands (CI) Sociology major Maria Pimentel second place in the CSU Student Research Competition held at CSU Bakersfield and first prize for the Social Science Research and Instructional Center for Best Undergraduate Research Paper.

Pimentel completes her degree this semester with the awards, a 3.5 GPA and plans to participate in the spring commencement ceremony.

“I’m excited. It’s been a great journey. I don’t want it to end,” she said. “I want to go to graduate school.”

It’s a journey Pimentel never thought she would make, considering her background as the child of an undocumented worker who was brought over the border as a baby. At first, her status dimmed her hopes for the future. Ultimately, she not only overcame these perceived limitations, but used her experience as an inspiration for her award-winning paper.

Maria’s paper was titled “Is Education the Great Equalizer? Comparing the Wages of Native and Immigrant Latinos in California: 2000-2012.”

Pimentel’s faculty advisor, Assistant Professor of Sociology Luis Sanchez, Ph.D., said Pimentel explored the income differences between immigrant Latinos and Latinos born in the U.S. and to what extent education played a role in that gap.

“The general findings were that those born in the U.S. have higher incomes than their immigrant counterparts,” Sanchez said. “That gap largely diminishes after accounting for differences in education between U.S.-born and Latino immigrants.”

Education clearly played a big role in determining career success for the U.S.-born Latinos, but there was even more.

Pimentel, 24, also discovered that other Latina/os like her, who migrated to the United States as children, tended to also do very well after getting an education.

“My experience in the U.S. was a lot different than my mother’s,” Pimentel said. “I’ve been going to school here since I was a young girl. My experiences were similar to people born here.”

Pimentel’s mother took her across the U.S.-Mexico border when Pimentel was a toddler. Pimentel’s mother was escaping a broken marriage and sought a better life for her and her daughter.

Pimentel attended school, but kept her expectations for herself low.

“To be honest, when I graduated from high school, I didn’t think a four-year university would be a possibility for me. When I got to community college, I was not a star student. I was not very focused. I was going through the motions to get my Associates (degree) and get out.”

Counselors encouraged her to try CI, and when she decided to go for it and enrolled, she completely transformed.

Sanchez’s statistics course fascinated her, particularly when it came to social patterns. She immersed herself in research and sought answers to the question she always had as a DREAMer.

“It’s been said that immigrants are not good for society,” she said. “But my research shows that given education and citizenship status, immigrants have potential to be valuable to society.”

Sanchez encouraged Pimentel to enter her work in the 23-campus Student Research Competition and the SSRIC’s Student Symposium.

“Maria is passionate about immigrant issues and her research allowed her to work outside of the classroom and elevated her educational experience,” Sanchez said. “She is an excellent role model for our students and exemplifies how even those with humble beginnings, including Latino immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children, can accomplish great things.”

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About California State University Channel Islands
CSU Channel Islands 
(CI) is the only four-year, public university in Ventura County and is known for its interdisciplinary, multicultural and international perspectives, and its emphasis on experiential and service learning. CI’s strong academic programs focus on business, sciences, liberal studies, teaching credentials, and innovative master’s degrees. Students benefit from individual attention, up-to-date technology, and classroom instruction augmented by outstanding faculty research. CI has been designated by the U.S. Department of Education as a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is committed to serving students of all backgrounds from the region and beyond. Connect with and learn more by visiting CI's Social Media.