Finding Data in Students' Stories
Through research and oral history, Jondou Chen is probing the experiences of students from different backgrounds
By Patricia Lamiell
Jondou Chen straddles multiple worlds. As a doctoral student in Developmental Psychology and Director of TC’s Student Press Initiative (SPI), he is both an
academic and a practitioner, a researcher and a teacher, and a quantitative and qualitative assessor of classrooms and the world. As the son of immigrant parents, he lives at the intersection of his Taiwanese heritage and his American upbringing.
Chen, who is also a graduate research fellow at the National Center for Children and Families (NCCF), and an adjunct instructor and master’s adviser in the Developmental Psychology program, wouldn’t have it any other way. He grew up as an English language learner in San Diego, where “this idea of walking in two worlds is both challenging
SPI was started in 2002 by then-TC student Erick Gordon and Chen’s mentor, faculty member Ruth Vinz, TC’s program coordinator for English Education. It is a professional development program that helps teachers incorporate oral histories, writing and publishing in their instruction. It is based on the premise that academically challenged students gain power, confidence and determination to stay in school when they are able to write and publish their own stories.
As a Zankel Fellow at SPI, Chen came to understand that the stories of students from lower socioeconomic status homes could shape a question he was trying to answer through his research. “Drug use and divorce rates were just as high in La Jolla [an affluent neighborhood of San Diego] as in inner-city Boston,” Chen says. But student outcomes are better in La Jolla, so, he says, “I wanted to find out whether there was something protective about coming from a high socioeconomic status. I loved the research, but I was missing that interaction with the communities.”
Chen’s quantitative research at NCCF explores how neighborhood characteristics predict outcomes, such as graduation rates.
As Director of SPI, he conducts research that is exclusively qualitative—which is to say, he observes, listens and interacts. The intersection of the quantitative and qualitative is, in Chen’s opinion, the best part of his work. And, he says, it represents the future of TC and education itself.
“We are constantly asking, ‘What is the cutting edge of education?’” Chen says. “There is this sense of constant evolution. That is what you get when you’re at a place like TC.”