Q&A with Blanca Torres-Olave
Title/s: Assistant Professor
Specialty Area: International Higher Education
Where is your hometown?
I grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico.
Tell me a little about your research and areas of expertise.
I focus on issues in US higher education and the implications they have on institutions of higher learning worldwide. My current work focuses on the changing landscape of academic labor and the growing stratification of employment among STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) graduates, including what is affecting job opportunities, stability of employment, benefits for women and minorities.
How did you become passionate about these topics? What or who inspired you?
My personal experience in higher education drives my research and work. I grew up in Mexico and completed my undergraduate studies there, but I always wanted to study internationally. When I was young, I wrote to a dozen countries to learn about life outside of my own. In return, Canada sent me a packet that included information about Universities and scholarships. From that point on, I was resolute that I would study there and I received my master’s degree in higher education administration from The University of British Columbia. I later came to the US to complete my doctorate in higher education from the University of Arizona. I’m grateful for my unique perspective; having studied in three countries certainly affords me a unique perspective on higher education.
My research on the STEM labor market started from conversations with my sister, who works in environmental sciences. After completing her PhD she looked for stable employment for over two years, while some graduates in her cohort are still looking. Her experience made me wonder whether her experience might be a widespread phenomenon in the U.S. and Mexico, two countries with policies that strongly emphasize STEM education.
What courses are you instructing?
I am teaching History of American Higher Education and Program Evaluation.
What is one concept you want your students to learn from your course(s)?
Working in higher education can be discouraging, because we come across the inequities inherent in the system on a daily basis. Instead of taking it personally, I encourage my students to make it personal and find research that matters to them. I have them ask themselves, “How can my work help not only me, but help others, too.”
What advice do you have for people working toward a career in higher education?
They must find their own passions. If they identify an area of interest that no one else is talking about and is close to their own lives, they’ll be more likely to succeed and avoid burnout.