DePaul University’s College of Education (COE) not only shapes future educational leaders—it also provides a platform for breakthrough research in the broader field of education. Each year, select university faculty members are eligible to apply for university sponsored research grants, which enables them to expand their current research agendas. Three COE faculty members were awarded this grant for the 2017-2018 academic year, namely Dr. Sunny Park-Johnson, Dr. Leodis Scott, and Dr. Joseph Gardner. While each faculty member works under the COE umbrella, their current research approaches and topics are vast and varying, conveying the diversity of thought in DePaul’s COE.
Joby Gardner, Ph.D., along with a research team that consists of Dr. Becky Michel, Dr. Thomas Noel, Cassidy Bradford, Shanity Bigelow, and Karlee Johnson, has formed a brand new initiative for DePaul students and faculty titled “Lift as You Climb” (LAYC), which is geared toward the rapidly changing educational environment present in US schools and communities. Because of the current challenges that plague the city’s educational systems—such as growing concerns regarding housing, immigration, discrimination, segregation and access to essential resources—LAYC aims to improve education opportunities across Chicago.
LAYC is meant to bridge the barriers that block opportunities for certain students in Chicago while offering DePaul students the chance to serve as “LAYC Ambassadors,” and work to affect change through leadership development seminars, hands-on experience in academic inquiry and educational research, the development of a project that can focus on anything from community agency mapping to participatory action research. These projects are overseen by DePaul faculty as well as local professional advisors, who work as educational leaders in the Chicago area. Ambassadors will present their projects at the LAYC Symposium on Saturday, May 19.
Sunny Park-Johnson, Ph.D. teaches a variety of courses in Bilingual-Bicultural Education and heads a newly founded COE initiative called the Bilingual Language Development (BiLD) Lab. Her passion for linguistics has carried into her current research project, Bilingual Children’s Language Use and Development in a Spanish Immersion Early Education Classroom. Along with her team of dedicated research assistants, Dr. Park-Johnson is currently working with a Spanish immersion preschool in Evanston that teaches its students solely in Spanish. The student body itself is made up of both heritage language learners, or HLLs, and second language learners, or L2ers—the latter making up the majority. When asked about the focus of her study, Dr. Park-Johnson explained, “We’re looking at the effect of exposure to Spanish in early childhood on children’s syntactic and lexical development and maintenance, and how children’s language ideologies are impacted when the language of school is not the dominant language of society.”
Because children typically only experience L2 education at an older age in most U.S. schools—as well as because those who speak a second language are often exposed to it solely at home and not in an educational environment—Dr. Park-Johnson felt compelled to investigate how and why L2 education affects young students. She and her team hope to “examine the effects of L2 education at a young age to better understand the nature of second language and heritage language development in early childhood—as well as the impact it has on language ideology formation.”
Upon completion of this project, Dr. Park-Johnson hopes her findings will help to progress other Chicagoland area immersion preschools. As she states, “this project shows how heritage language maintenance and second language learning can be a successful model that celebrates what linguistically and culturally diverse students can do.”
Leodis Scott, Ph.D. is taking an entirely different approach with the grant he received, focusing on his students’ research in the City of Chicago’s public services. His study, Learning Cities Project: Quantitative Research in Public Service, Leadership, and Learning Across the City, gives doctoral students—mainly those in DePaul’s Education Leadership program—the opportunity to plan and perform research outside the university. As it advances his courses SCG 735/755 Quantitative Research Design I/II, Dr. Scott explains that “this project will allow students to incorporate quantitative methodologies and methods for researching public service, educational leadership, and various types of service or lifelong learning in the Chicago metropolitan area.” Dr. Scott and his students are working alongside the non-profit organization Team Englewood, which dedicates itself to building a stronger community in the south side neighborhood.
Dr. Scott reflects on the value of the lessons he has learned over the years as a part of the COE faculty: “having the unique honor and opportunity to teach in the Educational Leadership program, I learned more about their deep connections and commitments our COE students have to the Chicagoland community.” He continues, “I hope this research helps to describe how cities and neighborhoods implement lifelong learning policy and programs that go beyond traditional schools, colleges, or universities to connect all members of the community.”
While he is thankful to give doctoral students the chance to improve their research skills, Dr. Scott is also proud that this project involves professionals in the public and civil service industries, and hopes that it will in turn affect the “city at large.” From his experience overseeing this research, Dr. Scott has developed a call to action for other professionals and researchers to join in on the project, welcoming them “if they have an interest in the lifelong learning, continuing education, and educational leadership that exist in Chicago and its neighborhoods and communities.”