As of 2018, 10.2% of public-school students in the United States were emergent bilinguals according to the National Center for Education Statistics. This translates to more than 5 million students in U.S. public schools participating in language assistant programs to help them attain English language proficiency and meet academic goals.
Students and individuals who speak multiple languages deserve to be supported, valued, and celebrated. This is why GoMee Park, a College of Education postdoctoral scholar and alumna, decided to pursue her scholarship in the field of language education.
Park, who earned a doctorate in Foreign Language and ESL education from Iowa in 2021, was recently recognized for her scholarship by being awarded first place with the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) Outstanding Dissertation Award.
This is not the first time Park has been recognized for her research. She also presented a portion of her findings at the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) and received the AAAL Graduate Student Award in March 2021.
Park’s research focuses on English language education, particularly assessment and teacher education, and language policy.
For her dissertation, she observed a dual language (DL) school in Iowa to explore the role of DL educators. This meant investigating how educators’ understanding of state-required assessments, and their use, impact DL educators’ decisions and classroom instructions in terms of their language policy.
Park says this study revealed that inequality within the current U.S. educational system prioritizes English language education through assessment mandates, accountability, and reform discussions, despite the large amount of effort being put forth by DL educators to support emergent bilingual students to be bilingual and biliterate. This eventually has a significant impact on these educators’ understanding of and use of language.
Winning two awards for her research helped assure Park that her work makes a profound difference.
“As a graduate student, I think we often wonder whether our work will contribute to the field,” Park says. “The imposter syndrome is something that we always have to deal with.”
Park’s passion for her research and bilingual education overall partly stems from her background.
Park is originally from South Korea, but came to California in middle school and lived there until she graduated high school. She then returned to South Korea to complete her undergraduate study and earn a Master of Arts degree in English linguistics. There, she taught English to a wide range of populations for 10 years before coming to Iowa to pursue her doctorate.
Park was drawn to Iowa by the quality of the college’s work in language education.
“Because I was interested in language policy and language assessment, the UI was the perfect choice for me because we have renowned scholars of the field,” Park says.
While pursuing her doctorate, Park worked as a graduate assistant for the Advocacy, Capacity, and Collaboration for English Learners (ACCEL) project in Iowa. She also taught English to adult immigrants at Kirkwood Community College, and obtained another Bachelor of Arts degree in Teaching Korean as a Foreign Language through an online Korean Teacher Education program.
“I always enjoyed teaching English, but I think my experience as an ESL student pushed me further to this field because I struggled, both culturally and academically, so much when I attended middle and high school,” Park says. “Also, while working on the ACCEL project, my interest in bilingual education grew as I realized the value of bilingualism in the educational context. After all, I am a bilingual myself!”
This is increasingly important as a record 67.3 million U.S. residents speak a language other than English at home as of 2018, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.
After a year marked by many accomplishments, Park wants to thank everyone who has supported her, including her husband and family, her friends and cohort, and the faculty members in the college.
Going forward, Park will continue to make a positive impact in this field. Park’s proposal for an Obermann Interdisciplinary Research Grant has been accepted, meaning she will be working with Educational Measurement and Statistics Professor Catherine Welch on investigating the impact of linguistic complexity on EL students’ state-mandated math assessment. She is also eager to turn her dissertation into several journal articles and is looking forward to collaborating with other recent Iowa graduates in the field.