Select Page
Home » Discover Rackham » Student Spotlight: David Mickey-Pabello

Some people just don’t want to leave Ann Arbor. That’s the case with David Mickey-Pabello: he’s been a Michigan student for the bulk of a decade. During that decade, he’s evolved from undergraduate to master’s student to Ph.D. candidate, and he’s picked up a few tricks along the way.

Commuting, for example. His biggest hobby is cycling, and it’s the way he gets around town. On this cold, snow covered day, he used the headlamp on his helmet and his spiked tires to stay firmly planted on the road as he made his way to Rackham. He cycles also because of his second hobby: Michigan craft beers. He says, “Cycling helps prevent me from putting on 20-25 pounds in the winter. We have some of the top brewers in Michigan here with lots of boutique places opening up. It’s a really good craft beer city.”

David hails from Mexico, where his dad met his mom when he was on a study abroad program in Mexico. He was born in the beautiful mountains an hour inland from the gulf coast of Mexico and moved to Cleveland when he was four. (He’s quick to make a non-Buckeye fan disclaimer here.) He’s at Michigan under the positive influence of a family friend who was a dentistry student here and spread maize and blue love down in Ohio. He says, “When it came time to apply to undergrad, I only applied to two schools: Michigan and my safety net school, Case Western Reserve. I didn’t get into Case.”

Nearing the end of his undergraduate degree, David cold-called some faculty, sending them solicitation e-mails discussing his interest in higher education and was able to secure a job at the National Forum for Higher Education for the Public Good in the School of Education. He was unsure whether or not to pursue a Master’s or Ph.D., and one course naturally led to another, as he completed his Master’s in Higher Education and moved to Sociology for his doctorate. He says, “During the time I was a master’s student here, I took extra Ph.D. level classes in higher ed and really pushed myself to see if I could handle the workload. I had already done about a year and a half of coursework that a Ph.D. student would have done. That made me a really good candidate when I applied to doctoral programs, and I was admitted to many programs. My offer at Michigan was really nice though. I had a Rackham Merit Fellowship here and a position as a Population Studies Center Trainee at the Institute for Social Research.”

David is a fourth year doctoral candidate preparing to undertake his dissertation research. He recently co-authored a publication on affirmative action in medical school to measure the effect of these bans on underrepresented students. He explains, “One of the problems gripping the nation is a shortage of physicians and that problem is expected to increase overall, especially in geriatric care. That problem is also coupled with the fact that underrepresented students of color are underrepresented in medical school as well. We have these two demographic things that are working simultaneously and then comes this policy on top that makes it harder for people of color to become physicians.” His article, co-authored with Dr. Liliana Garces, is being published in an upcoming issue of The Journal of Higher Education.

As to his current research, he describes, “Right now I’ve been working on a project for the past two years with Dillip Das, the Assistant Vice Provost of Academic Affairs. I’m very interested in issues of diversity and access to higher education, and while there are a lot of nationally-represented data sets, I didn’t think that those data sets covered well the student participation in university programming. Dillip, Sociology Professor Silvia Pedraza, and I were able to think about a project that would allow me to look at these things but also serve the university. I studied six different cohorts of students to measure the differences between transfer students and non-transfer students on 4 and 6 year graduation rates.

Knowing that the issue of differing college completion rates between underrepresented minority students and non-underrepresented minority students was also important to the Assistant Vice Provost, David added an additional component to his project. He says, “Because of concerns dealing with selection, I moved away from the project on transfer students to the work on underrepresented students until I could work out the selection issues. Doing so would allow me to work out some of the kinks in the data set while working towards a publication, so I analyzed the data using the Oaxaca decomposition method to compare the gap in graduation rates between underrepresented minority students and non-underrepresented minority students. I found a difference of about 10 percentage points which was expected, and that’s pretty significant, but until now we never had a data-based explanation for what factors were driving the graduation gap. In conducting the research I confirmed that traditional predictors of success such as demographic information (e.g., socioeconomic status) and educational ability (e.g., standardized test scores) helped to explain the gap, but I also substantiated my hypothesis that student participation within the university’s opportunity structure is an important influence on graduation rates.

Another thing he’s learned along the way is that he can come to Rackham for help. He explains, “Last summer Rackham saved me. There was a point where I was working on this data and couldn’t take an internship somewhere else and no one was paying me to do the research I was doing. I had no way to pay the bills, so I reached out to Rackham and they gave me emergency funds to make ends meet, enough to pay the bills because at that point I’d eaten away all my savings.”

He’s also learned that his time as a student will come to a close and he’ll work out in the great world beyond. Although he was initially on the fence about becoming a tenure-track faculty member or working outside of academia because he felt that any real-world impact of his work might not be put into practice, he has since changed his mind and now feels that academia would be the best fit for him. “I’m having a nice experience now where I get the best of both worlds. The people I need to talk to to enact change are right across the street. I’m able to do what I need to as a scholar, and also help the university with its role to promote diversity. I’m happy I get to have these conversations and still feel like I’m making change.”