Fourth-year doctoral student Connie Chung, Ed.M.'99, Ed.M.'07, cites the 1992 riots in Los Angeles as an event that greatly influenced her decision to pursue a career in education. Says Chung, who was a junior at a Los Angeles-area high school at the time, "[The riots] opened my eyes to how we do or do not teach about social justice issues in schools."
After receiving her master's in Teaching and Curriculum from the Ed School in 1999, she returned to California to teach high school and, hopefully, to tackle these issues of civic engagement in the classroom. Today, Chung is being honored by one former student for being an influential and inspiring teacher.
Emily Sheu, a student of Chung's when she taught at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, Calif., recently received the Frederick Emmons Terman Scholastic Achievement Award for being in the top 5 percent of her graduating class at Stanford University School of Engineering. Although Chung had been her English teacher, Sheu chose to share her award with her because of the positive influence Chung had on her both in and out of the classroom.
"I had [Emily] for three years, and it was a great relationship-building period," Chung says. "It is an amazing honor to be nominated. It was also surprising because you can never really know what an impact or influence you have on a student's life. I was very touched." At the awards ceremony, Sheu spoke about how her relationship with Chung has contributed to her own academic success.
At HGSE, Chung continues her study of civic engagement in education and is a member of Lecturer Karen Mapp and Associate Professor Mark Warren's doctoral research practicum that examines the role of community organizing in school reform. "More specifically, I am interested in looking at individual moral and social development in the context of social and cultural factors," Chung says. She is also currently working on a paper investigating how people of faith learn about and understand these broader social issues.
Having studied at Harvard as an undergrad and at the Ed School as a master's student, Chung says the resources that the university has to offer were a significant factor in her decision to return for her doctoral degree. "Education in the context of democracy, civic engagement, and international development were my areas of interest and HGSE specifically had all the professors that I wanted to work with in those areas," she says. The flexibility of the program, as well, has allowed her to study the variety of issues she is interested in.
"I've gotten so many different kinds of experiences here," she says, referring to the time she has spent researching, consulting, and teaching. "It has given me a very well-rounded experience in terms of the many different opportunities I've had, and it has been above and beyond what I expected."
Chung says it is not clear how she will ultimately put her studies to use long-term, and her wide range of interests makes the decision even harder. "I definitely want to have an element of teaching but I also love staying engaged with practitioners, whether it be in community organizing or district leadership," she says, adding that the process of researching and writing has also been very interesting for her and is a field she would consider in the future. "I kind of want to do everything, and hope to find something that will let me do all those things," she says.
Although she does not know yet what the future holds, Chung's recent accolade has invited reflection on her career so far. "[The award] reminded me what a good decision it was for me to become a teacher," she says. "It was affirming in that sense and it also stressed to me that this is a special kind of calling."