Vanessa Witenko


Research Interests

My research focuses on educational inequality in U.S. K-12 public schools through the lens of sociological theory and mixed-methods analyses. Specifically, I look at racialized school tracking and how Latina/o students are disproportionately assigned to the basic/remedial academic track, while White students are disproportionately assigned to the honors/Advanced Placement (AP) academic track.

Mentoring Experiences

One of the rewards of mentoring undergraduate students is that you're able to work with students for extended periods of time and watch them develop into critical researchers. On average I work with the same group of students for 1-2 years, so I get to know them personally and I become like an academic mom/counselor to many of them. It's especially rewarding to work with students who are incredibly brilliant, tenacious, and amazing, and yet most academics wouldn't open their research doors to these students because they've been socialized to see brilliance through a particular lens that gives preference to particular racial, social, and gendered groups.

What the Award Means to Her

In academia, there's so much pressure to publish that there usually isn't much incentive to mentor. With this award, I'm being rewarded for work that is often not rewarded—and that feels good. It's a step in acknowledging all the extra work that graduates students do. So, I share this award with all my fellow graduate students who have also mentored students when they stayed late during office hours, walked a distressed student to the counseling center, bought a hungry student lunch, reviewed their cover letter, wrote a letter of recommendation, and when they listened, and listened, and listened to a litany of stresses, confusions, and undergraduate epiphanies, all while attempting to progress through a graduate program.