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  October 2, 2000

Woo Lands Fellowship to
Study Asian American Teens

One of the Neag School of Education's junior faculty members is the latest to win national recognition for her research.

The U.S. Department of Education has selected Kimberley Woo, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, for its Visiting Scholars Fellowship program. She is one of four selected from around the country to spend the next year in Washington, D.C., focused on their research.

Woo does not hold back her enthusiasm for the fellowship. "It's like winning a gold medal in academia. For one whole year I am doing what I want. What an honor! What a luxury!" she bubbles.

Each year, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Research and Improvement offers the residency program to "innovative, new young scholars" who are developing ways to learn about little known populations.

Woo's research is focused on Asian and Pacific American adolescents - a population that, in the past, has been overlooked by most educational researchers. Yet Asians constitute one of the fastest growing ethnic minorities in the country. By the year 2020, the number of Asian children in the U.S. is expected to reach 4.4 million.

Woo will use the Internet to conduct her in-depth, qualitative study of how Asian American teenagers see themselves within their community, and she will document how their views and their lives as adolescents differ from one region to another. Using electronic technology to talk with the students makes this type of research efficient and cost effective, she says.

Fifty teens will be chosen from high schools in five regions of the country. Next, Woo will create a chat room, or what she calls a virtual community, for the group. The room will be open only to the designated participants.

At first, she expects she will have to direct their conversations by helping them open up about their experiences. But mostly, she will be an observer, documenting how the teens perceive themselves through pop culture, in their communities and within their families.

"Most Asian kids are perceived as being really smart and quiet, or they are equated with the Kung Fu or sexy Suzy Wong thing, but that leaves out many kids" she says. "An Asian in the south may take on more of a black identity, and those in the west may identify themselves as Chinese Americans."

Woo's ultimate goal is to use her research to help teachers become more effective with all of their students. It is a project near and dear to her heart, because she feels her own teachers had little understanding of the life of an Asian American girl growing up on the West Coast.

The fellowship is expected to open a number of doors for Woo. She is working out of an office at the Department of Education, which gives her access to all that the agency and the nation's capital have to offer.

While the first year of her work is covered by the fellowship, she hopes to find funding for another three or four years, so she can follow the participants in her study group throughout their high school years. After gathering four years of data, Woo plans to write a book based on her research.

Next fall when she returns to UConn, Woo intends to work with her colleagues in developing an introductory course in multicultural studies.

Janice Palmer