Alum wins national award for outstanding doctoral research

May 10, 2022

Won Jung Kim, a 2021 graduate of Michigan State University’s Curriculum, Instruction and Teacher Education (CITE) doctoral program, won the Outstanding Doctoral Research Award from the National Association for Research in Science Teaching.

The award is one of the top honors from the organization, and recognizes research that has great significance in the field of science education. Kim received the award during NARST’s annual conference in March 2022.

Won Jun Kim (Photo: Santa Clara University)

“It was a great honor to receive this award from NARST, one of the most renowned organizations in our field,” said Kim, an assistant professor at Santa Clara University’s School of Education and Counseling Psychology. “The award, ultimately, is an honorable recognition of the importance of the research-practice partnership among youth, educators and researchers aimed at identifying and implementing justice-oriented science education in informal STEM settings.”

Kim’s dissertation—”Making Visible and Amplifying Youth-initiated Moments for Rightful Presence in Informal STEM Learning Space”—examined times in which “youth made visible their bids for rightful presence in and through their informal STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] learning experiences, and by exploring how their educators supported and amplified these bids.” The term “youth-initiated moments” is one Kim herself coined.

The research underscores Kim’s commitment to supporting underserved students, said Professor Alicia Alonzo, who served as one of Kim’s advisors at MSU and will serve as the new CITE program coordinator beginning May 16.

While working as a public school teacher, Kim volunteered to teach in schools in underserved communities and, often with unconventional approaches, taught the youth to see themselves as “science-capable people.”

Later, while working with co-advisor and former MSU Professor Angela Calabrese Barton, Kim helped youth see and develop pathways to STEM careers and helped instill the agency and creativity to use science in their personal and social lives.

In another project, Kim helped articulate a new construct, said Alonzo: epistemic caution.

“Won seeks to describe an important target for science education,” Alonzo explained. “She wants to support students in examining science-related claims, such as those related to climate change on epistemic grounds rather than accepting or rejecting such claims without examination—like ‘all information from scientists is true’ or ‘all information that conflicts with my beliefs is untrue.'”

Kim credits research-centric and rigorous courses, robust assistantship and fellowship opportunities and MSU’s innovative faculty as three of the central ways the CITE program prepared her as a scholar.

Now, in her role at Santa Clara University, Kim is building upon research she began at MSU. She has two areas of focus: science teacher education in support of youth’s rightful presence and partnership-based STEM programs for rightful presence. Rightful presence is a framework developed by Calabrese Barton (University of Michigan) and Edna Tan (University of North Carolina-Greensboro) to inform the studies and practices of justice-oriented pedagogies particularly for minoritized youth.

“I hope my current research projects will offer a way of ‘actualizing’ students’ rightful presence by facilitating environmentally conscious discourse and actions in science learning spaces through a close partnership with the community students care about,” said Kim.

MSU has representation on NARST’s Executive Board: Professor Christina Schwarz serves as the liaison to the social media, website and communications Committee (a role she’ll hold until 2023). At the same conference in which Kim was recognized with the Outstanding Doctoral Research Award, Associate Professor Amelia Wenk Gotwals was elected to serve as the liaison to the awards committee (a role she’ll hold until 2025).