Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Valuing Culture and Community: Supporting Hmong Children’s Home Language and Early Language and Literacy Development

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of blogs showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. In recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month we interviewed Dr. Lori Erickson, St. Paul Public Schools, and Dr. Alisha Wackerle-Hollman, University of Minnesota, who are developing a screening tool to assess the language and literacy skills of Hmong preschoolers. In this interview blog, we asked Lori and Alisha to discuss the motivation for their collaborative work, what they have learned so far, and the importance of conducting research with ethnically and linguistically diverse students and communities.  

What motivated your team to study the outcomes of Hmong preschoolers?

Our team is a unique collaboration between practitioners at the St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) and researchers at the University of Minnesota IGDILab. We are both deeply committed to supporting children’s full language and early literacy profiles across their languages to better inform instructional decision making and show a commitment to valuing culture through honoring children’s home language. When we started this project, we knew that the Individual Growth and Development (IGDIs) early literacy screening and progress monitoring measures were available in English and Spanish, and we had been implementing with great success. However, given that the district provides pre-K immersion programming in Spanish, French, and Hmong, it became clear that there was also a concentrated need for a valid, reliable tool to measure early literacy development in the Hmong language. The Hmong community, parents, and teachers voiced the need for a deeper understanding of the Hmong language and literacy skills that children acquire prior to and during the preschool period.

Prior to our current work, the IGDILab had significant experience developing the IGDIs Español, during which we refined a community-based approach for understanding language and early literacy development that took into consideration the developmental trajectory of each language, rather than as a translation to English. IGDI users noticed this difference, and SPPS approached our team about using a similar approach to develop the Hmong IGDI measures.

Please tell us about the two projects you have worked on together to address the early learning needs of Hmong students.

Our partnership has had the good fortune to receive two IES awards. The first award was a 2017 research partnership grant. We invested two years in gathering information from the community about what Hmong IGDI measures should include and developing a deeper understanding of the Hmong language landscape. The success of that program led to an IES measurement award to fully develop the Hmong IGDI measures. Currently in Year 1 of the measurement award, we have learned so much from both projects over the past four years.

  • There is tremendous passion around the Hmong language. Stakeholders, including community elders, families, students, and educators, have shown a deep passion for celebrating and honoring the Hmong language. These discussions have focused on nuances of the language including generational differences, dialectical differences, and cultural representation.
  • We have learned much about how the language has evolved. The Hmong language is spoken most frequently by elders. Children are often exposed to the language in the presence of elders, creating a cultural and social dynamic that requires inter-generational conversation to support language preservation.
  • Although it is important to understand how a child’s native Hmong language can support their academic success in Hmong and English, it is also critically important to support Hmong language development to support social pride and cultural identity.

Throughout our work we have affirmed that studies like ours that focus on minoritized languages in concentrated communities are critical to support children’s success and to promote language preservation.       

How does your research contribute to a better understanding of the importance of studying low incidence populations, including ethnically and linguistically diverse students?

There are over 300,000 Hmong in the United States, and the Hmong population is the fastest growing of the East Asian group (US Census Bureau, 2017). Hmong Americans represent one of the most under-served cultural communities in the US, concentrated in two specific areas: the Midwest—St Paul, MN and Madison, WI—and the Central Valley of California (Pew Research, 2015).

Given the high levels of poverty and the large percentage of students entering the U.S. education system, Hmong Americans represent an important Asian subgroup that may continue on a negative academic and economic trajectory if meaningful intervention is not put into place.  The needs of Hmong Americans warrant our attention to bring educational opportunity and equity to a growing but marginalized group of children and to contribute to our broader mandate to conduct research that contributes to the betterment of all children.

Our effort to develop Hmong IGDIs will provide educators with a set of resources that are instructionally relevant—that is, the measures can be used to provide data that have direct implications for instructional practices, such as informing how to modify instruction to maximize Hmong language and early literacy development. In this way, our work aims to demonstrate a deep value of the Hmong language, support educators to understand children’s Hmong language and early literacy skills and improve their academic outcomes through differentiated instruction.

In your area of research, what do you see as the greatest research needs or recommendations to address and improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

Volumes of research demonstrate the importance of language and early literacy development during the preschool years. However, this research has provided little attention on low incidence populations, including ethnically and linguistically diverse students (for example, Hmong, Karen, Somali, and Indigenous dialects). These children’s outcomes are just as important as those of majority populations. We must invest in these low-incidence populations to create a more equitable educational experience for our youngest learners.

An omnipresent need in this arena is the need to involve and collaborate with the communities, families, and educators that education research intends to serve. Indeed, the strongest parts of our work involves the feedback we receive from community and family members. Our team includes three Hmong community members as staff, and we continuously engage the community in our process. Our initial interview and focus groups drove the creation of a community level survey to gather input on what features of the language were most important to the community. We then used those data as a catalyst to form a strong partnership between the community, family members, and the research institution, which has resulted in a process that is meaningful to all parties. If we expect our education research to be meaningful in communities of practice, we must improve how we value and collaborate with those communities in partnership.

How does your research contribute to a better understanding of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in education?

This work has a direct connection to equity and inclusion in education. The Hmong are a low-incidence population, which has contributed to their marginalization. As an example of how this community experiences marginalization and inequities, we share our experience in the IES review process. When we first submitted our application for a measurement goal project the review panel provided a weak score for our application noting that they could not justify the resources of an IES award on such a small population, among other weaknesses. These results illustrate just how inequitable our system has been. When we reapplied the following year, we developed an argument around equity. Fortunately, the reviewers agreed with our rationale and funded this project.

We fully recognize the Hmong community is small and highly concentrated, and we fully believe developing the Hmong IGDI measures will provide a meaningful resource to these communities to support Hmong children’s language and early literacy development. As our nation continues to grow in diversity, we will see more and more languages in our classrooms. We must develop procedures and resources that can support all students, not just those historically centered. As evidence grows, we are learning about how a child’s native language used in community can be an asset to their academic performance in the classroom, even when the instructional language is English. These findings provide evidence of how inclusive practices that include native languages can be beneficial to all students, not just to monolingual English speakers.


Produced by Caroline Ebanks (Caroline.Ebanks@ed.gov), Team Lead for Early Childhood Research and program officer for the National Center for Education Research.

Active-Duty Military Families and School Supports

Virtually every school district in the United States educates a child whose parent or guardian is serving in the Armed Forces. This May for Military Appreciation Month we asked Timothy Cavell, University of Arkansas, and Renée Spencer, Boston University, to discuss their IES-funded project on school supports for military-connected students.

What motivated your team to study military-connected students?

We got interested in studying military-connected students through our work on youth mentoring. We saw the potential for school-based mentoring to offer a measured response to the needs of military-connected students who are generally resilient but who, at times, need extra support. With funding from IES, we developed a system for delivering school-based mentoring that was anchored by a district-level military student mentoring coordinator who forged home-school-community action teams composed of school staff, military parents, and community leaders. This project heightened our sensitivity to the high mobility that characterizes military-connected families. These students experience 6 to 9 moves during their K-12 years—a mobility rate 3 times that of non-military children. Our current IES project, the Active-Duty Military Families and School Supports (ADMFSS) study, looks beyond mentoring to explore other kinds of supports that might benefit highly mobile military students and parents. We want to know how school supports might foster school connectedness for military students and parents.

What are your preliminary research findings?

We’re still in the early phases of data analysis and working on manuscripts for publication, but we can share a few things we’ve learned so far. Our findings are based on collecting three waves of parent and student data across two separate cohorts of elementary and middle school students (N = 532).

  • Personal connections seem to matter most to military connected students and parents. Of the many types of school supports we measured, including things like welcoming practices and social and emotional learning supports, students rated having teachers help new students feel welcome when they first move into the school as most important. Parents rated ongoing communication with the school as most important.
  • School supports likely matter. In preliminary analyses of our data, we’re finding associations between measures of school support and academic and psychosocial functioning. Parents who reported receiving school supports they considered important also reported higher quality parent-teacher relationships, stronger perceptions that schools were welcoming of military families, and less parenting stress compared to parents who reported receiving fewer school supports they considered important. Students who reported receiving school supports they considered important reported feeling more connected to school, higher academic efficacy, higher school engagement, and greater family support than students who reported receiving fewer supports they considered important. Although military-connected parents often noted a preference for not being treated differently from civilian families, they do appreciate school supports geared specifically for military-connected students. Some examples include an orientation, open house, or school tour at the beginning of the school year; lunchtime groups specifically for military-connected students; and access to the military family life counselor.

Based on your preliminary research, what advice would you give schools on how to best support military-connected students?

Most military families seem to weather the stresses and strains of multiple moves, but there are times when these families and students need additional support. The majority of military-connected students attend civilian schools where teachers often lack understanding of and appreciation for military family culture. We learned from our work that military-connected parents greatly appreciate when school staff acknowledge the distinct nature of military family life and “see” their family’s sacrifice. Simply recognizing the distinct challenges and sacrifices these families encounter can go a long way, and small accommodations (for example, not penalizing students for being absent on the day an active-duty parent returns from deployment) are highly valued.  

What has been the most rewarding aspect of this project for you as a PI?

Without a doubt, it’s the level of appreciation expressed by the families who participated in our study. We were surprised that many felt our study was an effort to see the challenges faced by military-connected students, a group often considered the most invisible within a school. It is meaningful to engage in work that touches the lives of families who make important sacrifices to serve our country.

What are the next steps for your research team?

We just received recommendation for funding from the Department of Defense to develop and conduct an initial evaluation of a digital tool that can be used to support the school transitions of military-connected students in the elementary and middle school grades. This tool will capture information about the transitioning military student that is catalogued in a teacher-friendly e-dossier that parents can share with new teachers before the student arrives in their classroom.

We hope this tool will empower military-connected parents to act with greater agency when their family moves, and their student makes yet another school transition. By sharing this information with the new school, it provides military-connected students with just-in-time support and receiving teachers with just-in-time training about military family life and the needs of this new student.


Renée Spencer is a professor at the Boston University School of Social Work. Her research is rooted in relational perspectives of human development and much of her work focuses on distinguishing factors that facilitate positive and meaningful youth mentoring relationships from those that contribute to mentoring going awry. Dr. Spencer’s research highlights the importance of tailoring mentoring to the specific needs of special populations of youth, such as systems-involved and military-connected youth.

Tim Cavell is a professor in the Department of Psychological Science at the University of Arkansas. His research focuses on the role of parents, teachers, and mentors in selective interventions for children who are highly aggressive or chronically bullied. Dr. Cavell also examines school-based strategies to support elementary school students from military families.

This interview blog is part of a larger IES blog series on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) in the education sciences. It was produced by IES program officer Vinita Chhabra (Vinita.Chhabra@ed.gov), parent of military-connected students. For more information about the study, please contact the program officer Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov).

Bringing Ourselves to Education Research to Promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of blogs showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. In recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month we interviewed Dr. June Ahn, associate professor of learning sciences and research-practice partnerships at the UC Irvine School Of Education and PI of the IES-funded Career Pathways for Research in Learning and Education, Analytics and Data Science training program. Here’s what he shared with us on how his background and experiences shaped his career and how his work addresses the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in education.  

How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

I am a child of immigrant parents who came to the United States from South Korea. Neither of my parents graduated from higher education but were able to find stable, working-class jobs as postal workers in Rhode Island. These details very much shape the experiences I’ve had and how I think about my work. For example, growing up in an extremely small Korean-American community, not many people outside of the community understood my background and family history. I had to learn to navigate many different social groups with diverse ethnic and cultural histories. As a child of immigrants, I very much understood how education was seen as an important mechanism for social and economic mobility. At the same time, I was keenly aware of how my experiences and realities were often absent or misrepresented in my schooling, the curriculum, and experiences with educators. 

These facets of my history shape the kind of scholarship that I pursue, where I strive to—

  • Design new learning environments for STEM education that turn an empathetic eye towards fostering rich experiences for minoritized youth, for example, by linking science learning with writing in science fiction clubs, carefully designing game experiences to expose diverse learners to science, using social media tools to show how science is fused into everyday lives and selves, and creating STEM learning environments built into actual city and neighbor spaces so that young people and their families can see how science and play can be joined together
  • Develop research-practice partnerships with educator and community partners to co-create solutions that are relevant to their needs, for example, to foreground an understanding of race, our histories, and racial justice as the focus of education improvement, as well as to help educators better support foster and homeless students who experience hardships as they traverse K-12 education systems
  • Create experiences for minoritized students at UC Irvine through an IES Pathways Training Grant to learn about educational data science and analytics and build their identities and skills while preparing for future graduate study

At the heart of this scholarship is my interest in building learning experiences that support students from diverse racial identities and partnering with communities while centering issues of race in how we develop solutions.

In your area of research, what do you see as the greatest research needs or recommendations to address diversity and equity and improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

I think researchers need to realize that we are products of our own racialized histories, meaning that we bring our unique perspectives and blind spots to how we frame scholarship. The research questions we devise, what we decide is worthy to study, and our research design choices all come from our histories and ways we have been conditioned to understand the world and other people. Knowing this, I firmly believe that we need to build capacity for education researchers to understand how to be more empathetic in our approaches, to learn how to better partner with communities—not just inform them of our findings—to make research more relevant to local stakeholders, and finally to learn ways to step back and let others in the community have their voices centered in the research process. These skills and dispositions do not mean that we abandon what we know about how to do research or science. Instead, they give researchers tools to better understand how to value our own diverse histories and bring them into our research projects.

Beyond these methodological needs, I think that future research to address diversity and equity must continually go back to the lived experiences of the youth and families we are trying to reach. Even if research might illuminate trends and inequity, these findings mean little—and tell us little about what to do—unless we also couple our findings with an understanding of how our partners experience these inequities or lack of inclusion. 

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups?

There are a few inflection points that I think are important to continually support the careers of researchers from minoritized groups. First, representation matters. Universities and organizations need to strongly encourage their faculty or workforce to continue to seek out and hire folks from underrepresented groups. This task should never end, or organizations can quickly move backward. Funding decisions for which scholars and what research endeavors are supported also need to continually ensure that diverse scholars can build their careers, and that innovative ideas begin to permeate through academic communities.

However, representation is not enough. Deliberate attempts to change workplace culture is vital to supporting the career growth of scholars. In my own life experience, I’ve often felt unsupported because the cultural norms, the behaviors that colleagues and supervisors enact, and the ways that a “system” continues to position someone as not welcome, help push individuals out. It is easy to spot egregious, clearly racist, situations. However, the most damaging experiences are usually enacted by well-meaning individuals who don’t understand how to be self-reflective about their blind spots and take responsibility for how their ways of working may hurt scholars from minoritized groups. This type of change cannot be made with a DEI workshop or other typical strategies that organizations take. Change can only happen if individuals can be truly self-reflexive, take personal responsibility for their own actions, and actively work from the perspective of minoritized scholars. This is slow work requiring multiple hard conversations and many years of trust-building.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups that are pursuing a career in education research?

I am so excited about the next generation of scholars in education research. My advice is threefold.

  • Trust that your past histories, experiences, and perspectives give you a unique insight into issues of education, teaching, and learning. The fun challenge is to continually seek out what makes your perspective unique and to confidently communicate this uniqueness to your academic communities.
  • Seek out senior mentors who both support your vision and act in ways that position you for more impact and recognition. Early in my career, I had senior mentors who were co-PIs on grant-funded projects with me. This allowed me to further my research vision and gain entryway into important avenues of resources for scholarship. These acts of strategic mentorship propelled my career and put me in position to pay it forward to the next generation of scholars.
  • Cultivate supporters outside of your home research institution and build long-term trust in relationships by continually doing good work with integrity and kindness. This type of work is slow, taking years to cultivate, and requires a lot of patience and faith that doing the right thing will pay off in the long run. However, building a career on good research, trusting relationships, and kindness builds a strong foundation from which scholars from minoritized groups can jump off from while withstanding many challenges one might face.

Produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council and training program officer for the National Center for Education Research.

 

Leveraging Diversity of Academic Disciplines and Cultural Experiences to Advance Education Research

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of blogs showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. For Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we asked researcher Mingyu Feng, a senior research associate at WestED, to discuss her career journey. Dr. Feng serves as principal investigator of the IES-funded ASSISTments and MathSpring efficacy studies, which examine the effects of intelligent tutoring systems, data-driven instruction, and formative assessment on student learning outcomes.

How did you become interested in a career in education research? How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

When I first came from China to the United States to pursue a PhD in computer science, I wasn’t thinking of having a career in education research. My goal was to become a computer scientist who plays with algorithms and codes every day. Then, I was surprised to learn how many U.S. students trailed their peers academically in a highly developed country like America. The 2002 NAEP data indicated that only 30% of 8th graders were at or above the proficient level in reading or math. My first thought when I saw that statistic was, “There must be a way to help these students.”

I pursued a PhD in intelligent tutoring systems at Worcester Polytechnic Institute out of a desire to leverage technology to boost student learning. An intelligent tutoring system (ITS) is a computer system that aims to automatically provide immediate and customized instruction, feedback, or intervention to learners. Building ITSs requires a highly interdisciplinary field, where computer technology intersects with artificial intelligence, data mining, learning sciences, cognitive sciences, and education. As a graduate student, I developed systems and analyzed student learning data. I built upon my prior math knowledge from studying engineering and taught myself statistical modeling and learned about experimental design methods. I was also fortunate to be able to visit classrooms and work directly with educators and students to understand how critical it is for a student to receive needed support and for a computer system to be effectively integrated into an educator’s classroom routine. This experience inspired me to pursue a career in applied education research. Since then, my research career has focused on the development and research of education technologies and conducting rigorous evaluations of their impact on learning or practices in authentic education settings.

What has been the biggest challenge you have encountered, and how did you overcome the challenge?

As a first-generation immigrant, I haven’t directly experienced the U.S. K-12 and college education system and was initially less familiar with U.S. policies and practices. I asked a lot of “naïve” questions—What’s the difference between a public school and a charter school? How does a district decide the adoption of a supplemental program or a core curriculum? Does 5th grade belong to elementary school or middle school? Does a teacher or a school have discretion regarding instructional practices? It was a long and steep learning curve, but I found connecting directly with students, educators, administrators, and policymakers to be beneficial for learning about the education system. Listening to their needs, observing classrooms, and discussing research and findings in a meaningful way with practitioners provided me with the context and inspiration I needed as a researcher. When I saw an exhausted teacher running around to put out fires in the classroom, or a frustrated student staring at the computer screen, I knew there was still a long way for us edtech developers and researchers to go.

I also recognized that my cultural background and resulting perspective on education could be both a challenge and an asset. In many East and Southeast Asian cultures, Confucian ideals such as respect for elders, deferred gratification, and discipline are strong influences. Traditionally, Asian parents teach their children to value educational achievement, respect authority, feel responsibility for relatives, and show self-control. These perspectives were infused in my upbringing and influenced my approach to understanding education in the United States where diverse cultures thrive. I worked to gain perspective-taking skills to understand situations from other positions, to consider other beliefs, experiences, and viewpoints.

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups?

Early exposure to research and opportunities can be quite helpful. My doctoral training expanded my view of career options beyond academia and helped me see the value of applied research and the impact research can have on practices.

Recently, IES has advocated specifically for inclusion of emerging scholars from underrepresented groups in RFAs and during the reviewing process. That’s a great way to support scholars from these groups. Just for fun, I skimmed the list of 1,500 PIs of IES funded grants and found about 50 first or last names resembling Asian names. With acknowledgement of this less-than-rigorous approach, this very rough estimate of 3-4% suggests there are not a whole lot of IES PIs with Asian heritage. Therefore, I really appreciate the increased attention and encouragement IES has given to addressing underrepresentation in the education research community and would love to meet more scholars like me at the PI meetings.

In addition, I’d encourage project directors to think more creatively when considering institutional partnerships, building a staff team, or forming an advisory board. By including collaborators or advisors from underrepresented groups, the team benefits from the breadth of talent, perspectives, and skills that arise from diversity.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups that are pursuing a career in education research?

My first piece of advice is to be confident and brave. Believe in yourself and in the value you bring to the table. Sometimes, this means stretching outside your comfort zone or persevering towards a goal you are passionate about. In Chinese culture, modesty is viewed as a virtue. I’ve always been told “modesty helps one go forward” and “silence is golden.” Yet, I’d encourage emerging scholars from minoritized groups to put their best selves forward and display their pride. 

My second piece of advice is to find someone you trust, a mentor or an advisor, who will show you how to navigate the field and provide guidance for your academic and career advancement. A great mentor can show you your strengths and weaknesses, encourage and advocate for you, and support your growth by creating opportunities and connecting you with collaborators. For someone from underrepresented groups, I found it is best to have someone who can speak up for you when you are not present in the room.


Mingyu Feng is a senior research associate with WestEd’s Learning and Technology team. She leads large-scale grants focused on leveraging education technologies to transform science and mathematics instruction to improve student learning.

Produced by Wai Chow (Wai-Ying.Chow@ed.gov), program officer for the Effective Instruction grant program within the National Center for Education Research.

Asian Voices in Education Research: Perspectives from Predoctoral Fellows Na Lor and Helen Lee

The IES Predoctoral Training Programs prepare doctoral students to conduct high-quality education research that advances knowledge within the field of education sciences and addresses issues important to education policymakers and practitioners. In recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we asked two predoctoral scholars who are embarking on their careers as education researchers to share their career journeys, perspectives on diversity and equity in education research, and advice for emerging scholars from underrepresented backgrounds who are interested in pursuing careers in education research. Here is what they shared with us.

 

Na Lor (University of Wisconsin-Madison) is currently a PhD candidate in educational leadership and policy analysis where she is studying inequity in higher education from a cultural perspective.

How did you become interested in a career in education research? How have your background experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

I view education institutions as important sites of knowledge transmission with infinite potential for addressing inequity. In addition, my background as a Hmong refugee and a first-generation scholar from a low-income family informs my scholarship and career interests. My positive and negative experiences growing up in predominantly White spaces also shape the way in which I see the world. Meanwhile, my time spent living abroad and working in the non-profit sector further influence my ideals of improving the human condition. With my training through IES, I look forward to conducting education research with a focus on higher education in collaboration with local schools and colleges to better serve students and families from underserved communities.  

In your area of research, what do you see as the most critical areas of need to address diversity and equity and improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

I see ethnic studies, culturally sustaining pedagogies, and experiential learning in postsecondary education as core areas in need of improvement to provide relevant education for an ever-diverse student body. Likewise, I see community college transfer pathways as crucial for addressing and advancing equity. 

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups who are pursuing a career in education research?

Chase your burning questions relentlessly and continuously strengthen your methodological toolkit. Embrace who you are and rely on your lived experience and ways of knowing as fundamental assets that contribute to knowledge formation and the research process. 

 

Helen Lee (University of Chicago) is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Comparative Human Development where she is studying the impact of racial dialogue and ethnic community engagement on the identity and agency development of Asian American youth.

How did you become interested in a career in education research? How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

I first considered a career in education research while completing my Master’s in educational leadership and policy at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. I had entered my program in need of a break after working as a classroom teacher, organizer, and community educator in Detroit for five years. During my program, I had the opportunity to reflect on and contextualize my experiences in and around public education. It was also during my program that I first came across scholarship that aligned to my values and spoke to my experiences as a teacher in under-resourced communities and as a first-generation college graduate.

Taking classes with Dr. Carla O’Connor and Dr. Alford Young, working with Dr. Camille Wilson, and engaging with scholarship that counters deficit notions of people of color was a critical turning point for me. The work of these scholars motivated me to pursue a path in education research. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to meet other scholars who conduct community-based and action-oriented research in service of social justice movements. These interactions, along with the opportunities to collaborate with and learn from youth and educators over the years, has sustained my interest in education research and strengthened my commitment to conducting research that promotes more equitable educational policies and practice.

In your area of research, what do you see as the most critical areas of need to address diversity and equity and improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

My current research examines the racial socialization experiences of Asian American youth in relation to their sociopolitical development. This work is motivated by my own experiences as an Asian American, my work with Chinese and Asian American-serving community organizations, and a recognition that Asian American communities are often overlooked in conversations about racism due to pervasive stereotypes.

Education research must be better attuned to the history and current manifestations of racism. That is, research should not only consider the consequences of systemic racism on the educational experiences and outcomes of marginalized communities but also challenge and change these conditions. I believe there is a critical need for scholarship that reimagines and transforms the education system into a more just and humanizing one.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups who are pursuing a career in education research?

I would provide the following advice:

  • Clarify what your purpose isthe reason why you are engaged in this work. This will help guide the opportunities you pursue or pass on and connect you to the people who can support your development toward these goals. Your purpose will also serve as a beacon to guide you in times of uncertainty.
  • Seek out mentorship from scholars whose work inspires your own. Mentorship may come from other students as well as from those outside of academia. It may stem from collaborations in which you participate or simply through one-time interactions.
  • Be attuned to your strengths and your areas of growth and nurture both accordingly. In retrospect, I could have done a better job of recognizing my own assets and engaging in diverse writing opportunities to strengthen my ability to communicate research across audiences.
  • Continuously put your ideas and research in conversation with the ideas and research of others. This enables growth in important ways—it can open you up to new perspectives and questions as well as strengthen your inquiry and understanding of your findings.
  • Engage in exercises that nurture your creativity and imagination and participate in spaces that sustain your passion for education research. A more just and humanizing education system requires us to think beyond our current realities and to engage in long-term efforts.      

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of blogs showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. For Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month blog series, we are focusing on AAPI researchers and fellows, as well as researchers that focus on the education of AAPI students.

Produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council and training program officer for the National Center for Education Research.