Kelly Nielsen

Bio: I am a PhD candidate and hold an MA in Sociology from UC San Diego and a BA in Latin American Studies from UC Los Angeles.

Areas of specialization: sociology of education, culture, social inequalities, gender, race/ethnicity, immigration, urban sociology.

Dissertation: "The Time and Place of Higher Education: Low-Income Women and the Pursuit of Social Mobility in the Outer City"

I focus on the narrative character and ethical demands of social mobility among marginalized young adults. I study the trajectories of poor and minority college students as they transition to adulthood, identifying how aspirations form and change, plans succeed and fail, and contexts of attainment shift and crystallize over time. Through analyzing the multiple and situational meanings of college-going, I extend our understanding of social life at a critical juncture in the pursuit of social mobility, the production of skilled labor, and the demand for virtuous membership in a democratic society. By analyzing how these women make and remake their aspirations and life stories, I explore how cultural frameworks of ambition, political-economic structures, institutional arrangements, and interactional demands intersect with personal biographies and particular places to shape mobility, well-being, and resilience.

I have published findings from my dissertation in Inequality, Power and School Success: Case Studies on Racial Disparity and Opportunity in Education (Routledge 2015), edited by Gilberto Conchas and Michael Gottfried, and in the ASA journal Sociology of Education.

In a previous study as part of the Mexican Migration Field Research Program at UC San Diego, I led a group of undergraduate students in a study of the family dynamics of U.S.-Mexico migration. We focused on how the family shaped decisions about whether to migrate to the United States or within Mexico and how family organization affected the experience of separation.

Selected Publications:

Nielsen, Kelly. 2015. “‘Fake It ‘Til You Make It’: Why Community College Students’ Aspirations ‘Hold Steady.’” Sociology of Education (October).

Nielsen, Kelly. 2015. “Beyond ‘Warming Up’ and ‘Cooling Out’: The Effects of Community College on a Diverse Group of Disadvantaged Young Women.” In Inequality, Power and School Success: Case Studies on Racial Disparity and Opportunity in Education, edited by Gilberto Conchas and Michael Gottfried. New York: Routledge.

Cerven, Christine, Vicki Park, Jennifer Nations, and Kelly Nielsen. 2013. College Can Be Complicated: Low-Income Single Mothers’ Experiences in Postsecondary Education. Los Angeles: UC/ACCORD.

Park, Vicki, Christine Cerven, Jennifer Nations, and Kelly Nielsen. 2013. What Matters for Community College Success? Assumptions and Realities Concerning Student Supports for Low-Income Women. Los Angeles: UC/ACCORD.

Nielsen, Kelly and Aradhana Tiwari, David Pasquini, Lizette Solórzano, and May Wejebe. 2009. “The Family Dynamics of Tunkaseño Migration.” In Mexican Migration and the U.S. Economic Crisis, edited by Wayne A. Cornelius, David Fitzgerald, Pedro Lewin, and Leah Muse-Orlinoff. La Jolla, CA: Center for Comparative Immigration Studies.

Fellowships, Grants, and Awards:

2015   Barbara and Paul Saltman Distinguished Teaching Award for Graduate Students, University of California, San Diego

2015   Dissertation Writing Fellowship, Department of Sociology, University of California, San Diego

2015   Dean of Social Sciences Travel Fund Award, University of California, San Diego

2013-2014    University of California All Campus Consortium on Research for Diversity (UC/ACCORD) Dissertation Fellowship

2013   Summer Graduate Teaching Scholar, University of California, San Diego


Summer 2013  Language, Culture, and Education

Summer 2015  Language, Culture, and Education

Graduate Students