Christina Bustos

PhD student aims to empower communities through policy work

We’re excited to introduce Christina Bustos, a Graduate College Enrichment Fellowship recipient who passionately advocates for BIPOC communities. In this Q&A, she discusses her professional growth through union involvement and other learning communities and how educational policy is key to long-lasting change.

Name: Christina Bustos

Degree: PhD

Program: Educational Policy and Evaluation

College: MaryLouFulton Teachers College


Please tell us about your academic and professional background.

I am a first-generation college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in education, emphasizing multilingual and multicultural education. I also have a master's of education in curriculum and instruction, emphasizing biliteracy. I taught 3rd-8th grades for over 18 years in Title I schools and served as team lead at different points in my career. I worked on various committees in curriculum writing and was an educational technology coach for the last two years before returning to ASU. 

What's something you learned during your professional or academic journey that surprised you or changed your perspective?

During my last year of teaching, I knew I was ready for a challenge and took on a coaching position within my school district. In those previous five years, I found my voice as an activist and advocate for educators, students and families in BIPOC communities. I was active in my union and other professional learning communities, which allowed me to grow professionally. However, I knew it wasn’t enough; I needed to return to complete a PhD in educational policy and evaluation. It helped me narrow down my program of study when I realized that policy can go beyond the state or federal level and include policy within districts.

What types of problems do you work on and why do you think they are important?

In the last few years, I have become increasingly involved in shaping policy conversations within the legislative district and at the school board level. There has been an increasing need to recalibrate and see students, educators and community members with all their unique perspectives and life experiences, including BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and undocumented citizens. I aim to co-construct more inclusive environments through conversation, policy discussion and policy itself.

How did you become involved in this work? What inspired you?

From an early age, I have wondered why specific laws and policies were in place – and why we had to follow certain rules and regulations. I have always returned to my core values, which are justice, truth and community (even when I didn’t know that’s what they were), to try to make sense of the world. As a high school student, I challenged policies in my school; in college, I volunteered with statewide campaigns and as an educator, I encouraged students to get involved in civic engagement. Knowing how my former students have overcome many obstacles has been one of my most significant inspirations. The other would be watching other educators gain a voice in a profession where they have been asked to be silent. One of my favorite quotes is by Cesar Chavez, "Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore." I hope we all find inspiration in that quote and work toward this ideal.

How have you interacted with the Graduate College? Is there an event, initiative or funding opportunity you're excited about?

I believe it’s essential to immerse myself in the experiences at the Graduate College because I never know who I might meet! Plus, it’s important to learn about the work they are doing. Because of receiving the Graduate College Enrichment Fellowship, I have met many wonderful people from different colleges with diverse backgrounds. I appreciate this opportunity! The ASU charter speaks to me and I am happy to know I am part of the vision.

What advice do you have for students interested in your field or higher education?

You have to do it because you love it, especially if you are returning after your undergraduate degree. Also, know your “why” because if you don’t you won’t be able to communicate your need for support to your family and friends. Beyond that, make sure that you talk to other students in your program and meet with potential mentors and advisors to see if they are a good fit for you. Ensure you know your funding options; I needed to ensure funding would be secured so I could devote my time to my studies because working full-time was not feasible as a single mother.

What are your relaxation practices to recharge during the semester?

I like to plan my days and weeks and ensure they include tasks I enjoy doing. That way, I always have something to look forward to. I enjoy a quick walk or cleaning (I don’t like the cleaning, but I love the after-effects!).

What are some of your long-term professional goals?

I don’t have a specific long-term career goal but moreso a community goal. My professional goals are building bridges, creating partnerships and holding space for others to collaborate. I want to build up marginalized communities and work with policies to represent our communities.


Edited by Marjani DeHoff