Stephanie Aguilar-Smith

"MSIs serve students that matter to me. They matter to me because they're people." -Stephanie Aguilar-Smith, Doctoral Student, College of EducationStephanie Aguilar-Smith is a doctoral student in the Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education (HALE) program in the College of Education, also pursuing a certificate in Chicano/Latino Studies. Her family immigrated from Venezuela, and she is the first woman in her family to pursue a graduate education. Because of this and her professional background, Stephanie thinks of herself as the go-to within her family and their larger community for how to navigate certain systems. Speaking about this, she says “And, I think that is probably what I think is my most important job.”

Before coming to MSU, Stephanie and her partner lived in Tupelo, Mississippi, where she worked as an academic advisor. She chose to move to Michigan because both she and her partner wanted a different living experience that was also affordable. Previous higher education experiences had also left Stephanie feeling like universities were hierarchal places until she came to East Lansing for HALE’s preview weekend. “I remember Dr. Renn [a HALE faculty member] said, ‘Well, tell me why you think that.’ And, I felt like she actually wanted to know why I thought that. I wondered if I was being tested. Thinking, did I say the right thing? I'm not sure if I did or not, but I felt like I was in a place where we could talk and swap ideas. And, that was really cool to me.”

Outside of her roles as a sister, daughter, partner, and dog-mom, Stephanie bluntly describes herself as an academic. “I get to labor with my mind,” she says. “I'm an emerging—an emerging academic—, and my work is related to serving the Latinx community, which corresponds with what I think my whole life is about.” Stephanie also shared how much she appreciates her dissertation committee, saying “I'm the first committee that my department’s ever had where all the faculty are Latinx identified. I didn’t created because of that. But, all those people can really speak to my work, and they can actually support me in the work that I do.”

She believes that higher education is a mechanism that is beneficial for society as well as for individuals. She hopes that her work will someday influence policies that make organizations more equitably resourced across the system of higher education. “There are particular institutional types of receiving less funding. Specifically, Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) receive less funding compared to Predominantly White Institutions and they [MSIs] serve students that matter to me. I hope through my work, what I do is help more equitably allocate resources to better support colleges and universities that are doing the lion's share of the work of serving underrepresented and underserved students,” says Stephanie. “I just feel like my job is to make it worth what my parents gave up.”