Voices From the Field: Scholars’ Journey

Fanica Young, Julianna Kim, and Danica Moise

We invite you to read our interviews with Fanica YoungJulianna Kim, and Danica Moise, doctoral scholars and former OSEP interns. They each share what brought them to the field and how their doctoral programs have shaped their practice.

Fanica Young

Fanica YoungFanica Young, Ed.S., is a former special education teacher and a doctoral candidate at the University of Central Florida in the Exceptional Education program. She has over five years of experience as an educator, inclusion specialist, advocate, and tutor, teaching and supporting students with disabilities and their families from diverse backgrounds. Her research focuses on special education personnel preparation in trauma-informed care to support students with disabilities in Title I schools and underserved communities.

What made you realize that you wanted to pursue a doctoral degree in fields that focus on providing services to children and families?

I have always been passionate about making a difference in the lives of children with disabilities. Since my time as an undergraduate and continuing into the present, I have developed a deeper recognition of the importance of creating long-lasting impact for students of color with disabilities in urban settings. This is particularly crucial due to the limited diversity within academia. Furthermore, I am fortunate to have an advisor/mentor who motivates me to continuously explore fresh prospects in the field of special education, including pursuing higher education degrees. Initially, I was perplexed when she consistently addressed me as “Dr. Young,” and I often inquired about her reasoning. However, over time, I realized that it was a clear indication of her unwavering commitment to my triumph and her confidence in my capabilities. My mentor instilled in me a powerful gesture of acknowledgment and encouragement and showed me that I could achieve great things. She ensured I had the knowledge and chance to work with school-aged children of all ages with various disabilities in different settings and supported me in understanding my roles and responsibilities as a special education teacher of color. I have come to understand the genuine significance of representation. As a result of my experiences during my undergraduate studies, I was inspired to pursue a doctorate in special education.  My doctoral journey has highlighted the significance of advocating for and supporting culturally diverse individuals with special needs, especially in high-impact areas. Pursuing my doctorate has equipped me with the expertise and abilities required to become a leading authority in special education. This will enable me to make a meaningful impact in the lives of children and youth with disabilities, contributing to a brighter future for them.

What have you learned in your doctoral program that has changed how you thought about research, policy, and practice?

My doctoral program has transformed my perspective on research, policy, and practice in special education. Through a combination of coursework, professional development, and internships, I have learned the critical importance of comprehending the experiences of students and families and utilizing that knowledge to investigate vital issues in special education. Since the commencement of my doctoral program, I have gained extensive exposure and a profound insight into the significance of my research topics and how they have the potential to impact policy and practice. Additionally, my background and experiences as a scholar of color have been instrumental in fostering original ideas, research, and advancements to effect meaningful change in the field. Overall, my doctoral program has been an invaluable component in my growth as a scholar, leader, expert, and advocate for equity in special education.

Julianna Kim

Julianna KimJulianna Kim is a fourth-year special education doctorate candidate at the University of Maryland, College Park, and a licensed Maryland attorney. Her research interest is in family involvement and advocacy in special education.

What made you realize that you wanted to pursue a doctoral degree in fields that focus on providing services to children and families?

I wanted to find ways to help families of students with disabilities. I’ve seen countless selfless, sacrificial, and passionate teachers and school professionals giving their all, going above and beyond expectations and requirements to educate and make changes in numerous students’ lives. Unfortunately, I have also seen some students not receiving the appropriate education they need. One way to ensure a better educational experience for all students is helping families of students with disabilities by preparing and supporting them for the special education process. I wanted to study and explore ways families and schools could be partners and ensure students receive the appropriate education they need. More specifically, I wanted to find ways to help families and students navigate through the special education process even when attorneys and other advocates are not present.

Families of students with disabilities have to wear many hats, and the system expects them to wear certain hats even when they are unprepared and perhaps lost in the system. My hope is to help families and school professionals better prepare, communicate, and collaborate in all stages of the special education process.

What have you learned in your doctoral program that has changed how you thought about research, policy, and practice?

As a fourth-year doctoral student, my thoughts about research, policy, and practice have changed significantly since I started the program. Before, I was not a responsible consumer of research and did not fully comprehend its value. After entering the doctoral program and learning statistics, my lexicon has changed. I cannot use the terms “significance” or “cause” as I used to. Today I know the importance of research in the field of education and how well-designed research could impact the lives of many students, as well as the harm it could cause by performing a non-valid study. When I’m reading or listening to anything related to research studies, I am constantly thinking how and why such research was necessary, the quality of the research, and the interpretation of the results.

My view on the importance of family involvement in education has grown more since I started the program. As I study and read different research on family involvement and the positive benefits family involvement has on students’ education, my desire to promote family-school partnerships has increased. A family-school partnership is a norm for many schools, but more change in practice and policy is needed to enhance greater partnership and collaboration across the country.

Lastly, the biggest change after entering the program is my view on the importance of special education. The more I study the different policy issues and recommendations, I cannot stop thinking about the positive changes an effective special education system could bring to our society. Special education is connected to almost every part of our society, and special education is a field where many different professions and personnel are intertwined, such as physicians, teachers, social workers, psychologists, attorneys, juvenile justice system personnel, and individual families. Additionally, more than ever, there are data and resources on evidence-based practices and best practices for practitioners, and new innovative research studies are being explored daily. With increased funding and support, strategic dissemination, and collaborations among partners, I believe our special education system could not only make a positive change in students’ lives but also positively and significantly impact our society and be the difference-maker our society currently needs.

Danica Moise

Danica MoiseDanica Moise, M.A., BCBA is a first-generation scholar and Doctoral Candidate in the Exceptional Education program at the University of Central Florida. With a background in speech therapy, special education, and applied behavior analysis, Danica has spent her career working with children with Autism from disadvantaged schools and underserved communities. Danica aspires to improve the academic, social, emotional, and adult trajectory outcomes for students with disabilities through advocacy and preparing practitioners entering the special education workforce.

What made you realize that you wanted to pursue a doctoral degree in fields that focus on providing services to children and families?

The more I advanced in my career, the more I learned a doctoral degree provides a unique set of benefits to those who pursue it. By obtaining a doctoral degree, I could gain advanced knowledge and expertise that helps improve the lives of families and children, especially those with special needs in underserved communities. Specifically, a doctoral degree would expand the type of work I could do and where I could work.

Working in a university setting could allow me to shape the field’s future by teaching courses or providing mentorship to preservice practitioners to give them culturally relevant skills and knowledge to help underserved communities. Additionally, I could also become an expert in the field and lead the development of new programs and services. This can include working with government agencies, private organizations, and other entities to create and implement initiatives that improve the lives of children and families. A doctoral degree could also allow me to become a consultant and offer specialized services to those in need or conduct research that can lead to new insights and innovations that benefit society. Overall, gaining a doctoral degree will provide me with a range of opportunities to make a positive difference in the lives of many children and their families.

What have you learned in your doctoral program that has changed how you thought about research, policy, and practice?

My doctoral program has taught me a variety of essential elements and changed how I view research, policy, and practice. Regarding research, I learned how to use various data sources to identify and analyze information and understand the methods and techniques used to conduct research. Understanding and translating data into meaningful insights is crucial because misunderstanding data can lead to untruthful narratives.

Also, this process has given me an understanding of how policy influences organizations, individuals, and governments to create, implement, and evaluate policies that affect their respective areas and how to evaluate policies from different perspectives. I gained an understanding of how organizations, individuals, and governments can put their research and policy knowledge into action by learning how to develop and implement strategies for effective change and improvement. My understanding has expanded to realize the importance of collaboration, communication, and interdisciplinary work, including involving partners from multiple organizations and sectors when researching and creating policies.

By pursuing a doctoral degree, I am truly gaining a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of research, policy, and practice to create meaningful change.

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

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