Professor wins prestigious fellowship for education research

Study will look at language-minority students and the challenges they face in an academic environment

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Assistant professor of education George Bunch

George Bunch, an assistant professor of education at UC Santa Cruz, has won a prestigious fellowship to study the language demands faced by English learners in community college.

Bunch said the goal of the study is to better understand the language-related challenges facing students from language minority backgrounds in academic settings. Such knowledge can inform educators in their efforts to create the most effective means of preparing students, both in K-12 schools and in community colleges, for college-level academic work.

Bunch is one of 20 recipients of the 2010 National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowships that provide $55,000 for up to two years to pursue research in education.

"This is one of the most prestigious fellowships in the field of education," said Kip Téllez, chair of the Education Department at UC Santa Cruz. "We're very proud of George."  The fellowship will allow Bunch to build on his past research on how to improve educational conditions for English learners, Téllez said.

Bunch said he plans to document the language demands of programs aimed at preparing students for professional degrees or certificates, such as those in nursing, X-ray technology, or early childhood education, as well as programs in the liberal arts, social sciences, and engineering that prepare students to transfer to four-year colleges and universities.

“There is widespread agreement that college-level work in English presents challenges for students from immigrant and language minority backgrounds,” Bunch said, “yet there is very little research that actually documents what those challenges are in specific academic contexts.”

He is concentrating his research on what educators and researchers call  "Generation 1.5 students," college students who arrived in the United States during their K-12 school years. Their backgrounds and language characteristics fit neither the profile of newer immigrants and international students nor of monolingual English speakers, Bunch said.

He is focusing on community college students because groups identified as underrepresented at four-year universities and colleges typically begin their academic careers at community colleges.

"Two-thirds of all Latino postsecondary students seeking higher education begin in community colleges," Bunch said, "and almost half of all Asian/Pacific Islander college students attend community college. Among these students, immigrants choose community colleges over four-year colleges in greater proportions than do their native-born counterparts."

Bunch is currently completing a three-year project, funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, focusing on the testing and placement of U.S.-educated language minority students in California community colleges.

Bunch, who joined the UC Santa Cruz faculty in 2004, holds a bachelors degree from Georgetown University, and masters in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a Ph.D. in education from Stanford.