When Selena Carbajal graduated from Sunnyside High School in 2013, she was among 52 of her school’s valedictorians with a 4.09 GPA.
However, there was no limelight for her because of the sheer mass of high-achieving students.
Saturday, the 22-year-old Carbajal will share the spotlight with eight other dean’s medalists at Fresno State’s 107th commencement at the Save Mart Center.
Carbajal, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, was chosen the dean’s medalist from the College of Social Sciences. Her father, Ignacio, is a handyman at an apartment complex; her mother, Francisca, is a stay-at-home mother.
Carbajal had a 3.97 GPA while earning bachelor degrees in women’s studies, psychology and Chicano studies.
It’s not that the Fresno native needed an incentive to excel in studies.
“My parents were always behind me,” said Carbajal.
However, her father would offer her older sister $20 if she earned an A. (She has two sisters and a brother).
When Carbajal asked her father why she didn’t get the same incentive, he replied, “If I give you $20, I’d go broke!”
Carbajal didn’t plan on earning three majors. It just happened that way.
I took introduction to women’s studies, and then I decided to take Chicano studies because it reflected by experience and gender expectations.
Selena Carbajal, Fresno State dean’s medalist from the College of Social Sciences
“I took introduction to women’s studies, and then I decided to take Chicano studies because it reflected by experience and gender expectations,” said Carbajal, who decided to make her fifth year at Fresno State “productive” by going for those majors.
Carbajal created a line of research that combines the three majors, while examining the challenges and barriers of Latina, first-generation students in higher education.
She will pursue a doctorate in family studies and human development at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Advancing her college education is something her mother doesn’t quite grasp, she said.
“Mija, all your friends are graduating after four years,” her mother would say to her.
Her parents didn’t want her to work while she was in school. Her fourth year, she got a job on campus as a research assistant for the Latino Family Dynamics Project. Carbajal is a McNair Scholar, and a Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholar.
She calls her research “a good experience.”
Carbajal, in her research with three first-generation Latina college students, discovered that “at home they are not really seen as students.”
“They are expected to go out with family, go to dinner,” said Carbajal. “In high school, everything happened at school. Now, if they stay late at college, they are asked, ‘Why are you there?’
“It’s not that the parents don’t care, it’s that as a first-generation student, you’re living their expectations.”
Carbajal said universities should work with the parents of first-generation students to stress that their children need “quiet time” during the learning process.
“They need to tell them that her college (studying) is important,” said Carbajal, who played lacrosse her last two years of high school and reached her school’s championship finals.