For Soojin Oh Park, experiences teaching in early education have brought her to the University of Washington College of Education and a dedication to supporting children in their earliest years.
The new assistant professor began teaching in the UW's early childhood and family studies and learning sciences and human development programs earlier this academic year. She recently answered questions about her research, favorite book and more.
What drew you to education?
My commitment to advancing the field of early childhood education is deeply shaped by my teaching in both inner-city public and independent progressive schools. The two school neighborhoods were so close to each other in proximity yet far apart in what they could provide for the children despite the good intentions of parents and teachers.
Comparing my experiences in both schools, I began to inquire about our society’s role in addressing structural inequalities and advancing systemic transformation of American schools. I not only witnessed profound consequences of early adversity and institutionalized disadvantages on children and families, but also on communities—the disintegration of urban neighborhoods, unequal school conditions, intergenerational cycles of poverty, racial and political marginalization. These experiences led me to believe that supporting development of all children in the earliest years is one of society’s most important responsibilities.
Describe your research and service agenda.
I study the effects of public policies and early childhood programs on children’s development, and examine “active ingredients” in these programs that enhance the quality of early learning experiences, particularly among low-income and immigrant-origin children. I would like to better understand what quality in early learning looks like across contexts of development: While the first strand of my research focuses on high-quality early childhood programs, the second line of inquiry investigates what quality of early learning and parenting might look like at home, and how to best support families in promoting their children’s early cognitive and language development.
What makes this work meaningful to you?
We know clearly high-quality early education benefits all children, with substantially larger gains in learning among low-income, dual language learners. However, much work is needed to understand and identify active ingredients of high-quality preschool. We have yet to figure out how to ensure schools build on the work of early educators as children enter formal schooling. Furthermore, through teaching and mentoring, it is incredibly rewarding to invest in future generations of researchers and practitioners who are committed to advancing the field of education.
What attracted you to UW College of Education?
I deeply appreciate the collective commitment and intentionality of our College community—faculty, staff, and students—to promote educational equity through our work. A common thread undergirding the ongoing work of our faculty is a deeply shared belief in the transformative power of education for individuals and societies.
Additionally, I am excited to embed my work in the local and state policy context given recent efforts to expand access to high-quality preschool, Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance and changing demographics of newly arriving immigrants and refugee populations. We have an incredible opportunity here to learn about strengthening the field of early childhood education and providing systemic supports towards closing the income achievement gap.
What courses will you be teaching and what current/future courses are you most excited about?
I had the opportunity to design and teach a new course (EDUC 315) that explored various ways parents invest in their children’s learning and development. This course focused on how broader sociocultural factors—immigration, race and ethnicity, and socioeconomic status—might influence parenting goals and behaviors, and ultimately, their children’s early learning experiences. Students also learned about the most recent evaluations of policies and programs designed to strengthen parenting practice and promote early learning particularly among low-income families.
Another course (ECFS 321) I taught this quarter focused on understanding and improving the quality of teacher-child interaction in early learning environments. Students first learned to identify instructional strategies that reflect high-quality learning environments. Then they enact principles of intentional teaching by implementing these strategies, through self-reflection and feedback provided through a video-based, peer coaching model.
Next academic year, I plan to teach a course on early language and literacy development (ECFS 410) and a research methods course in early childhood and family studies (ECFS 401).
What is your favorite education-related book?
My most recent favorite book is The Road to Character in which David Brooks distinguishes the deep values that inform our lives into two categories: “résumé virtues” (i.e., achieving wealth, status, fame, power) and “eulogy virtues” (fundamental values that exist at the core of our being such as kindness, faithfulness, bravery, honesty, quality of relationships). Brooks argues that the latter deepens our commitments to family, community, nation, faith or some cause that defies the logic of cost and benefit and disregards the necessity of securing immediate return on investment.
This distinction challenged me to reflect on my intellectual journey and to consider how I might foster “eulogy virtues” purposefully in my research and teaching. The book further pushed me to think about how these value orientations are operationalized across various models of educational practice and parenting.
What's something that students and colleagues should know about you?
While most of my work is situated primarily in U.S., I have examined issues of educational equity and quality in early care and education in several low- and middle-income countries. It has been fascinating to develop a comparative lens to examine systemic supports and barriers that influence early experiences and development of children across cultures.
Besides your work, what's something that you're passionate about?
I devote a good portion of my leisure time exploring the art and science of cooking. I enjoy learning about the basic principles of chemistry, physics and engineering that underlie cooking techniques. Applying my novice understanding of these concepts, I experiment with new recipes or invent my own to create savory, everyday meals for family and friends. Though I fail from time to time, I find much joy in the process of learning intricate details of how things are made, testing the boundaries of conventional methods, and blending the tried-and-true techniques from different cuisines to develop my own repertoire.
To me, cooking is relational—bringing people together, connecting us to the past and chronicling stories of families and culture across generations. When visiting new cities and countries, I make sure to learn about local products and regional produce, as well as collect spices and kitchen gadgets for new gastronomic adventures. My next goal is to diversify our herb garden and grow vegetables.
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications