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Ph.D. Candidate is Topic of Documentary

From Welfare to Ph.D., UCR Student’s Journey is Subject of Documentary

“Work Harder” will screen Friday May 2 on the UCR campus, followed by comments from Acela Ojeda.

(April 18, 2008)

Ph.D. candidate Acela Ojeda graduated from UCR with two Bachelor's degrees.Enlarge

Ph.D. candidate Acela Ojeda graduated from UCR with two Bachelor's degrees.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — For one student at UC Riverside’s Graduate School of Education, lifting herself out of poverty required discipline and sacrifice.

In his self-funded documentary film “Work Harder,” chronicling two years in the lives of two single mothers, director Ethan Mechare shows the journey of UCR Ph.D. candidate Acela Ojeda. The film will screen at 6 p.m. Friday, May 2 in room 1500 Humanities and Social Sciences, followed by comments from Ojeda. Admission is free.

“I’m the first person in my extended family to graduate from college,” said Ojeda, a Riverside resident and the mother of two. “I had to overcome the obstacles of being a former high school drop-out and welfare recipient.”

After receiving two bachelor’s degrees from UCR, she decided to continue on to earn a graduate degree, even though the decision not to look for full-time work meant that she could no longer collect welfare benefits.

“There were times when only my children could eat and bills went unpaid,” Ojeda said. “It has been a long road and the struggles continue. However, they are no longer financial. They are learning how to balance work, home, children, and my programs.”

Ojeda received guidance on her path to higher education from Robert Ream, assistant professor, UCR Graduate School of Education and Ellen Reese, associate professor of sociology at the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

“Although I do research on welfare issues, Acela helped me to understand, on a very personal level, the enormous challenges and degrading experiences that single mothers and college students face with the current welfare system,” said Reese, author of “Backlash Against Welfare Mothers, Past and Present" (2005, UC Press). “Acela’s amazing and courageous journey from being a single welfare mother attending community college to becoming a self-supporting graduate student is beautifully captured in this film. While Acela was able to beat the odds and lift herself out of poverty, she never forgets (or lets you forget) where she came from and the many injustices that still confront low-income women of color today."

“This is one of my favorite things about UCR,” said Steve Bossert, dean of the Graduate School of Education. “This campus has a history of giving first-generation college-goers a jump-start toward achieving their dreams, enabling social and economic mobility. We equip our students to succeed.”

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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