Dr. Mike Hoa Nguyen, Assistant Professor of Higher Education, was selected as the recipient of the 2020 Outstanding Dissertation Award by the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Research on the Education of Asian and Pacific Americans Special Interest Group (REAPA SIG). REAPA promotes inquiry into educational and equity issues affecting Asian and Pacific Americans, facilitates interdisciplinary discussions around these issues, and provides members with colleagueship and support. We recently talked to Mike about his award, what is next in his career, and advice he has for students entering the writing phase of their academic journey.

First, can you tell me your dissertation title? My dissertation is entitled: “Building Capacity at Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISI): Cultivating Leaders and Civic Engagement through Federal Policy.” And per the legislation that created AANAPISIs, capacity building is one of their primary charges. Thus, and quite simply, my study uncovers and explains the process in which AANAPISIs build capacity. However, I wanted to get a deeper sense of how these institutions build capacity for Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), and what that means to those who are involved with this initiative on campus. In doing so, I found that AANAPISIs, through a very intentional and methodical process, develop and cultivate leaders – these are leaders within the student population, but also among staff, faculty, and administrators. Many provided leadership within their own academic units, but also in their local communities and for national projects – all with the desire to enhance equity and justice for AAPI populations. And so, an argument that I make is that AANAPISIs are a race-conscious federal policy that can fulfill its legislative requirement, of building capacity in order to serve AAPI students, but in doing so, AANAPISIs can simultaneously develop leaders who are driven to serve their communities, both internal and external to the institution.

Why did you pick this topic for your dissertation? Prior to starting graduate school, I worked as a Congressional staffer in United States House of Representatives. During that time, I worked on a number of exciting projects, where my most favorite initiatives revolved around higher education; and specifically, on Minority Serving Institutions (MSI), including AANAPISIs. In that position, I was able to serve as a liaison for several institutions as they strived towards becoming an AANAPISI. From there, I knew that I wanted to study these very special colleges and universities. I observed that they were able to do so much with so little, while building environments that validated the lives of their students, while also enhancing the capacity of their staff and faculty towards these efforts.

How does your life experience play into your work? What draws you to this subject and research area? My background in government and public policy greatly informs my work. I certainly bring my lens as a former Congressional staffer to my research. And without a doubt, that impacts the way I think about educational issues and the types of questions I’d like to answer. Given my approach, I’m fascinated by MSIs and AANAPISIs because of their ability to help us rethink the potential of postsecondary education. Additionally, given that MSIs are a federally designated and funded initiative, that specifically focuses on students of color, it is one of the few areas where our government affirmatively declares a commitment to race and issues of great importance for communities of color (i.e., a federally funded race-conscious policy). With that in mind, can the federal government do more and do better? Certainly, with federal policy there is always greater potential, and my research aims to engage with policy makers in order to provide precise interventions – so that we can collectively enhance this critical work.

How does it feel to win? It is a great honor to be selected by my peers and colleagues for this award. I hope that it helps bring much needed visibility to AANAPISIs, and to their students, staff, faculty, and administrators. If you are ever able to visit an AANAPISI, or any MSI, chances are you will find some really amazing and resilient students, and a committed team of staff, faculty, and administrators who will do anything to support them. As I wrote in my dissertation, I am grateful to all of those who have labored to advance the important work of AANAPISIs, and have great hope for their AAPI students.

What is next in your career? From a professional standpoint, I hope to continue partnering with more AANAPISIs and MSIs, and build upon this work. From a personal one, I hope that my research will benefit those who study and work at AANAPISIs, as well as help policy makers who are charged with oversight and appropriations. Additionally, I will continue to bring this work into the classroom. A bit of an unashamed plug, but I teach the MSI seminar and hope that students who are curious about this important institutional type will join us!

What advice can you give to those entering the dissertation-writing phase of their education? For my runners out there, and at the risk of sounding cliché, the dissertation is a marathon not a sprint. And while you are developing your proposal, collecting and analyzing data, or writing up the findings, or really at any point or stage, it may actually feel more like an ultra-marathon. And so, it is so important to find a topic that you are passionate about and drives you.  That will sustain you. Additionally, as isolating as it may feel, be sure to engage with your classmates, staff, faculty, other scholars in the field. Doing so will bring context, perspective, and energy. Finally, I can promise that if you put in the work, it will be a great dissertation – something that you will be proud of. But on the other hand, as one of my professors told me, “a great dissertation is a completed dissertation!”

Morgridge College of Education (MCE) had a robust presence at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in New York City, April 13-17. More than 50 faculty and students presented papers, and four were recognized for Division and Special Interest Group (SIG) awards. AERA is a national community of education researchers, comprised of 12 divisions and over 155 special interest groups (SIGs).  The Annual Meeting serves as a forum for academic institutions, departments, non-university-based research institutions, and professional associations to share information about federal education research, and engage in shaping policy with regard to significant research issues. This year’s conference theme was “The Dreams, Possibilities, and Necessity of Public Education.”

MCE Award Recipients

  • 2018 AERA Division K Innovations in Research on Equity and Social Justice in Teacher Education Award: Maria Salazar, PhD, Higher Education Faculty
  • 2018 Shelby Wolf Literature SIG Outstanding Dissertation Award: Kimberly McDavid Schmidt, PhD, Assistant Clinical Professor
  • 2018 Leadership for Social Justice SIG Dissertation of the Year Award: Angelina Walker, EdD, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Graduate
  • 2018 Family, School, and Community Partnerships SIG Dissertation of the Year Award: Kayon Morgan, PhD, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Graduate

MCE Presenters

The University of Denver Morgridge College of Education was well represented at the 2015 American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting. This year’s AERA meeting was held April 16-20, in Chicago, IL, with the theme: Toward Justice—Culture, Language, and Heritage in Education Research and Praxis.

With faculty from Child, Family, and School Psychology (CFSP), Higher Education (HED), and Curriculum Studies and Teaching (CST), as well as HED doctoral student Kristin Deal and Project Director at the Kennedy Institute for Educational Success, Doug Van Dine, at the conference, MCE made a great impression on Chicago.  Below is a list of the MCE faculty presentations:

HED Presentations:

  • Weaving Scholarship and Policy Making to Promote Inclusive Excellence in Traditionally White Higher Education Institutions Dr. Frank Tuitt, Kristin Deal, et al.

 CI Presentations:

  • Black Girls and School Discipline: The Complexities of Being Overrepresented and Understudied Nicole M. Joseph, et al.
  • Blacks’ Mathematics Education before Brown: An Examination of Mathematics Curriculum in Industrial Schools in the Segregated South, 1854 – 1954 — Nicole M. Joseph
  • Which kindergarten Common Core domains are most predictive of later mathematics achievement — Dr. Douglas H. Clements, Dr. Julie Sarama, et al.

CFSP Presentation:

  • Preschool Teachers’ Perceptions of Shared Book Reading Strategies that Promote Content Vocabulary Learning in DLL Children Sharolyn D. Pollard-Durodola, et al.

Duan ZhangDr. Duan Zhang, Associate Professor in the Research Methods and Statistics program at Morgridge College of Education, recently returned from a 5-month sabbatical in China. During her time abroad, Zhang served as a visiting scholar at the School of Psychology at Central Normal University in Wuhan, China, teaching a graduate course to an international student cohort, assisting with research, advising graduate students and attending conferences.

“I worked with five other professors in the personality psychology division. The professor I worked with is one of the biggest names in his field in the Chinese Psychological Society (CPS); we attended the first ever CPS conference for the division of personality psychology in Chongchang,” Zhang states. At the CPS-PP conference, Zhang gave a presentation on goal orientation and student motivation.

Towards the end of her visit, Central Normal University sponsored an international workshop on mathematical modeling for psychology and social sciences, bringing in five international experts to share their cutting edge research methods using different types of mathematical modeling. “That scope of modeling is quite beyond what we are used to with APA and AERA research.  Those research methods could be widely applied and I look forward to learning more about those techniques in order to bring them into my research,” Zhang commented.

Upon returning from her sabbatical, Zhang has served on the standing committee for the development of the upcoming Data Visualization and Statistics Center. The Center, scheduled to open by the end of this academic year, is a part of DU’s research incubator initiative and plans to support students and faculty with statistical analysis at DU’s Anderson Academic Commons. “I am excited about all kinds of possibilities for student and faculty projects. As a college, MCE can contribute a lot of expertise to the new center.”

Dr. Zhang’s research interests focus on statistical and methodological research, dealing with multilevel data  with hierarchical structures. “I focus on quantitative methods, providing methodological support for faculty grants and other types of research projects, figuring out how large datasets should be analyzed to best serve different education and psychology research questions.”

Currently, Dr. Zhang is wrapping up a mixed method research project, Supporting Parents in Early Literacy through Libraries (SPELL), with her MCE colleague Dr. Mary Stansbury. SPELL is funded by Colorado State Library and explores how public libraries and community agency partnerships promote early literacy to low income families. For the project, Zhang served as the research scientist and Dr. Mary Stansbury served as the content expert. Elaborating on the research, Zhang explains: “We had four sites, covering a broad demographic in Denver, Colorado Springs and rural Colorado. We collected and analyzed data from surveys, focus groups and interviews.” Having recently presented their research to the advisory board, Zhang and Stansbury plan to submit the abstract and present their findings at upcoming local and national conferences with audiences in the Early Literacy and Library communities. Zhang comments, “I have a 16-month-old boy, so I have a strong interest in this project, even from a personal standpoint. Early Literacy focuses on children ages 0 to 3 years-old; when they are that young, you can’t teach them how to read, but rather promote interest in books and form the habit of reading and the love of libraries.”


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