January 2019 Spotlight, Lisa Kiang, Ph.D.

This month, we are delighted to introduce Dr. Lisa Kiang (kiangl@wfu.edu) as our member in spotlight. She is a Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychology at Wake Forest University. Dr. Kiang’s research focuses on self and identity, family and social relationships, and culture. Major themes include: (1) Relational approaches to self and identity: for example, how self-evaluations and social identifications vary across relationships (e.g., parents, same-ethnic peers, different-ethnic peers) and ultimately influence adjustment; and (2) Protective influences in development: With a focus on youth from ethnic minority backgrounds, she is interested in uncovering ways to promote healthy well-being and more adaptive social relationships. Does cultural background or ethnic identification have a protective role in development? What are the precise mechanisms by which these positive effects occur (e.g., through a deeper sense of social belonging or purpose in life)?

Wake Forest psychology professor Lisa Kiang poses in her Greene Hall office on Tuesday, March 20, 2018.

1) what drew you to do work on Asians, Asian American children and youth, or another topic that is important to you now? who was an important mentor to you in this work, or an influential particular study in the field or in a related field?

My first research interests, way back when I was an undergraduate and through my MA thesis, did not center on Asian American youth and families.  At all.  Although there are some commonalities in themes of family relationships and conceptions of the self, my early work on attachment relationships, self-esteem, and disordered eating behaviors is quite different from my current work on ethnic-racial identity, socialization, and culturally-protective factors in well-being.  My career development follows the common story of “me-research”.  In my case, a change in context and a series of impactful experiences during graduate school triggered an evolution in the way I defined and attributed importance to my own ethnic/racial identity, which launched my passion for wanting to better understand how people culturally define themselves, including all of the implications associated with self-identity development.  I was fortunate to have a graduate mentor (Susan Harter) whose tag line was, “what’s your burning question?”  I’ve unabashedly adopted this phrase and now use it often with my own students.  I’m grateful to have worked with many wonderful people (Andrew Fuligni as my postdoctoral mentor and the other faculty involved in the FRC-IV).  Even to this day, I consider many of the peers and colleagues that I work with as important mentors as well.  Ultimately, I think we all do what we do because of our curiosity and inherent interests in asking and answering questions that are meaningful.  My best advice to others is to just explore their “burning questions” and go for it!

2) A short paragraph describing a particular recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes you excited about it.  

During my time as Asian Caucus Secretary, I was fortunate to collaborate with other steering committee members on a Special Section on Asian American Child Development that was published in the July/August 2016 issue of Child Development.  This was a set of three papers, in addition to an Introductory chapter and commentaries by visionaries in the field, that focused on describing the sociohistorical context of Asian Americans, introducing a conceptual model for Asian American development, and discussing best practices for research with Asian Americans.  Our goal was to advance theoretical and empirical work and I do think that our papers have effectively raised awareness about the importance and critical need to know more about Asian Americans from a development science perspective.

Last spring, I was invited to participate in an NSF working group to develop a lifespan model of ethnic-racial identity.  As part of an interdisciplinary team of junior and senior scholars, we lived and breathed all things ERI for two full days.  Some of the guiding questions in our critical analysis included: a) When do different aspects/components of ERI emerge, and b) What are the processes through which ERI components emerge?  Although our work is still in progress, we are currently collaborating on several papers that I think have the potential to expand the field’s understanding of ERI across the lifespan and among understudied populations.

Here is an “intro” video that describes a project I’m collaborating on with colleagues at UNC-Greensboro (co-PIs: Gaby Stein, Laura Gonzalez, Stephanie Coard).  Drawing on information from focus groups we conducted last year, we have developed a video-based program to facilitate racial/ethnic socialization processes in Chinese American, Mexican American, and African American youth and families and are planning to test and roll out the intervention this coming year.

3) Your thoughts about your experiences with the Asian Caucus.

What I really love the most about my experiences with the AC is how the community has helped me to grow both personally and professionally.  I enjoy how, over time, these connections have merged in a very easy, fluid way.  How amazing is it to be able to have colleagues you can genuinely call your friends, and vice versa?!  The AC has been a fantastic resource, and I appreciate that it is one that intentionally supports people at multiple career levels and across multiple contexts and disciplines.

4) Any upcoming talks or presentations?

This past year, through the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), I have been collaborating with Summit Public Schools on their innovative curriculum to boost identity and purpose development among adolescents.  I’m excited to continue partnering with CZI in December, when a small group of researchers and practitioners will convene and discuss ideas for implementing educational and learner-centered programs to promote “Comprehensive Student Development.” I’m also honored that students at my university just invited me to give the Student Union’s annual “Last Lecture” in the spring.  This will be an entirely different kind of talk than I’m used to and I’m terrified!  I’m all ears if anyone has any advice!?

5) A preferred weblink



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