This paper uses the life history method to narrate the experiences of Camilla, a 19-year-old, first-year student at a four-year university. Camilla emigrated with her mother from El Salvador to the United States during her freshman year of high school. Based on two years of data collection, the author presents Camilla’s experiences at different stages, including her childhood in El Salvador, first and last year in high school, and her first year in college. The paper explores the sources and influences of social capital for a low-income, first-generation student and highlights its dynamic and contextual nature. The author argues that the findings have direct implications for the development of college access and readiness policies.


Life History, Narrative Research, Qualitative Research, Social Capital, Cultural Identity, Low-Income Student, First-Generation Immigrant, College Access and Readiness, Cultural Wealth, Public Policy, El Salvador

Author Bio(s)

Randall F. Clemens, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at St. John's University's School of Education. His work pertains to three interrelated themes: pathways to college and career for low-income Black and Latino male teenagers; the uses of qualitative research for public policy; and innovative methods for research. He is completing Using Social Media for Qualitative Research (w/ Sage) and conducting research for his next book, Unequal Access: Understanding Culture, Concentrated Poverty, and Pathways to College. Previous publications include (w/ W. G. Tierney) "Qualitative Research and Public Policy: The Challenges of Relevance and Trustworthiness" and “The Uses of Life History.” Clemens received his Ph.D. in Urban Education Policy from the University of Southern California; MSEd in School Administration and Supervision from Johns Hopkins University; and B.A. in English from the University of Maryland, College Park. Before becoming a researcher, he served as a high school English teacher in Prince George’s County Public Schools. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: rfclemens@gmail.com.

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