Catherine Cheng Stahl was born in China and lived in Sweden, Nashville, Massachusetts, Vienna and Connecticut before coming to New York City and Teachers College three years ago.
“It sometimes feels that crossing borders is the theme of my life,” she says.
Certainly that’s the theme of Cheng Stahl’s work right now, both as a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum & Teaching and as an Editorial and Digital Publishing Associate with the Teachers College Record.
In the former role, she’s writing her dissertation on how lifelong access to the internet and digital devices has shaped the identity constructions of Generation Z youth (17-to-23-year-olds in her pilot study). In the latter, she has been tasked by the new Executive Editor, Professor of Education Michelle Knight-Manuel, with expanding the 120-year-old scholarly journal’s digital reach to engage not only emerging scholars in academia, but also K-12 teachers, community members and even, on occasion, youth doing participatory action research.
Cheng Stahl is comfortable crossing the boundaries that traditionally separate those groups, because, on top of her travels, she’s done some intellectual wandering, too.
As an undergraduate at Wellesley College, she was on track to work in biomedical research like both her parents, who are physicians and biomedical professionals.
“I majored in biological chemistry to please my parents and minored in art history to ease my soul,” she says with a laugh.
It sometimes feels that crossing borders is the theme of my life...I majored in biological chemistry to please my parents and minored in art history to ease my soul.
—Catherine Cheng Stahl
Then an education course she took during her senior year awakened “a pure gut feeling that there was something for me that I hadn’t tried, and that I would never feel right unless I tried it.” She volunteered as an aide teaching reading to third- and fourth-graders, and it felt so right that she stayed on at Wellesley for a fifth year, taking additional education classes before leaving to teach biology and chemistry at a rural Connecticut high school.
In 2018, watching her husband begin his training as an oncologist in New York City, Cheng Stahl had the gut sense that it was time to cross another border.
“I loved being with my students,” she recalls. “But sometimes I felt a need to explain myself because I didn’t have a Master’s or doctorate.”
TC, where she enrolled as a doctorate degree student in Curriculum & Teaching, has “opened new horizons in creative thinking and learning.”
I came to New York for the program, but I love the city. I love observing people in coffee shops and overhearing their conversations. After moving around as much as I have, it is amazing to see all the ways we are connected. Listening and paying attention helps me think about my own research.
—Catherine Cheng Stahl
“I came to New York for the program, but I love the city,” says Cheng Stahl. “I love observing people in coffee shops and overhearing their conversations. After moving around as much as I have, it is amazing to see all the ways we are connected. Listening and paying attention helps me think about my own research.”
She shares some of those observations on a blog she calls “Book Smart Street Smart” — yet another territory she manages to explore along with her dissertation and working four different jobs. But Cheng Stahl seems committed to the idea of crossing lots of boundary lines. In fact, she’s exploring the possibility of holding dual roles as an administrator and classroom teacher after earning her degree.
“I’ve done research and I’ll probably keep doing research,” she says. “But I’m a practitioner at heart so I want to go back to a high school. I’d like to be a principal, but I still want to teach because my heart is with the students.”