Ed.D. Graduate Students on Creating a Meaningful Impact in Marginalized Communities

Mariana Alvarez and Phoebe Paxton are both current graduate students. Today they share their motivations, experiences, and aspirations on their path towards earning their Doctor of Educational Leadership (Ed.D.) degree at San José State University (SJSU).

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Mariana Alvarez – 25′ Doctor of Educational Leadership (Ed.D.)

At the core of Mariana Alvarez’s pursuit of an Ed.D. degree lies a profound inspiration drawn from her familial roots. Mariana tells us, “My family has inspired me to pursue an Ed.D. degree. As a Mexicana, I saw the sacrifices and dreams of the generations before me, and I see how those roots are impacting my children as well. I also see the same reflected in the community I grew up in and the community I am privileged to serve. I believe that education is at the heart of how we continue to make changes and make our dreams a reality.” Mariana envisions education as the cornerstone for effecting meaningful change and realizes her role in nurturing future generations.

Milestones at SJSU

Mariana’s incredible journey at SJSU has also been thanks to her advisor, Dr. Rebecca Burciaga. She tells us, “Having an advisor who brings a wealth of knowledge and understands my experiences as a Latina in Education has inspired me to continue pushing through the program’s challenges. She has been an anchor in this endeavor.” Through her experiences as an elementary school principal in the East Side of San Jose, where she grew up, Mariana says that the Ed.D. program provides her with language to capture her experiences as an elementary school principal and be able to more critically examine practices that impact her community.

Shaping the Future

Post-graduation, Mariana will continue her commitment for systemic change within the educational landscape. Grounded in her mission to serve and empower marginalized communities, she aspires to be the support and mentor that she once wanted while navigating the education system. By advocating for inclusivity and amplifying the voices of aspiring Latina leaders, Mariana hopes to leave a mark on the educational sphere.

Contributions and Research at SJSU

Mariana’s dissertation is focused on Latina elementary school principals and how they use their community cultural wealth and cultural intuition to lead schools, while exploring what is the most influential in their pathway to principalship. She tells us, “while Latinos are the fastest-growing population, Latina administrators make up only 13% of the administrators in California. Research on Latina administrators has recently begun to emerge, and it is exciting to be a part of this growing body of knowledge.”


Mariana is the first in her family to pursue a doctoral degree. SJSU has played an integral role in how she sees herself achieving this dream by providing her with a clear plan. She tells us, “My professors have also been extremely supportive and know how to guide me in my research to deepen my knowledge on the topic. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet with the university president, hear more about her vision for SJSU, and share my thoughts with her. Last spring, I also had the opportunity to welcome the newest cohort to the program and share my experiences with them at that point.”

For Phoebe Paxton, the pursuit of her Ed.D. degree is inspired by her grandmother, Willie Mae Mitchell-Willis. Despite facing adversities that curtailed her own educational journey, her grandmother

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Phoebe Paxton – 26′ Doctor of Educational Leadership (Ed.D.)

instilled within Phoebe a belief in the transformative power of education. 

Phoebe shared with us some of her grandmother’s story, “My grandmamma, Willie Mae Mitchell-Willis, inspired me to pursue my doctorate degree. And has always been my role model. She was pulled out of school at the early age of 12 when her family needed her. My great-grandmother got sick and she needed someone to help her with house chores and cooking and taking care of her younger siblings. My grandmamma loved school and wanted to continue her education, but her mother was a single parent  and her mother insisted that she quit her schooling and stay home to help her. She carried a lot of responsibility at such a young age. Despite quitting school early, she always told her children how much she valued education. Every chance she got she would tell us that receiving an education is very important, she would tell us that if you receive an education no one could take it from you.”

Charting a Vision

Post-graduation, Phoebe envisions harnessing her newfound expertise to assume leadership roles within her community. She currently works for a nonprofit organization using her creative business and leadership skills as an administrator. Her supervisor has been preparing her to become a next-generation leader, but she must first complete her doctorate. Phoebe expects to graduate in 2026, and when she does, she will be appointed an executive director position. Since starting the Ed.D. program, Phoebe is interested in working towards becoming a California lobbyist or policymaker.

Contributions and Reflections

At SJSU, Phoebe has learned how to apply research to resolve current real-world problems in the field of education and learning. Of her research, she tells us, “I have the opportunity to learn how to interpret the latest research, and then use that research to develop strategies to improve educational outcomes in a variety of settings. The problem-solving skills can give me the ability to effect meaningful social change.”  By leveraging the resources and support provided by SJSU, Phoebe has cultivated a skill set that will allow her to make an impact in education.

Choosing SJSU

Phoebe decided to pursue an Ed.D. degree at SJSU because of the university’s reputation, accessibility, and commitment to fostering community engagement. Phoebe tells us, “SJSU provides accessibility to high-quality education at a fraction of the cost. I consider the SJSU campus as a diamond in the rough. During my research on the different Ed.D. programs, I learned that many SJSU students intern at different Silicon Valley companies. I was accepted at three different Ed.D. programs, I chose this program because of Dr. Rivera’s support and integrity.”

Mariana Alvarez and Phoebe Paxton shine as examples of perseverance, determination, and dedication. Their stories highlight how education can profoundly change lives and inspire others, and cannot wait to see what they do with their Ed.D. doctoral degree and how they impact their communities.

One thought on “Ed.D. Graduate Students on Creating a Meaningful Impact in Marginalized Communities

  1. Natalie Wong

    Awesome job, Mariana and Phoebe! Great to read your stories and you are truly inspiring!