July 2023 Spotlight – Mona Abo-Zena, PhD

This month, we are delighted to introduce Dr. Mona Abo-Zena (Mona.abo-zena@umb.edu), as our member in the spotlight. Mona is an Associate Professor in Early Childhood Education and Care in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Massachusetts Boston. 

What drew you to do work on Asians, Asian American children and youth, or another topic that is important to you now? 

Having grown up as a Muslim-American daughter of Egyptian immigrants in a small town in Iowa, I was keenly aware of the importance of creating a validating learning context for my PK-12 students. I first learned strategies to ground teaching in critical multicultural scholarship through Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED).  Providing authentic windows and mirrors (Simms, 1990; Style, 1998) to promote development has guided my scholarship, including learning with/from Asian and Asian American youth, other immigrant-origin youth, and all people. I am particularly interested in religious and religious and spiritual development (broadly defined) as a way of knowing and being.  I hope to keep developing my capacity for storytelling and other forms of research to reflect and enhance lived experiences.

A short paragraph describing a particular recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes you excited about it.  Feel free to describe its importance from any one or more of these lenses: a) research contribution; b) our knowledge about Asian or Asian American populations; c) our knowledge about other [understudied?] populations; d) practice or policy relevance. 

Dr. Meenal Rana and I have been co-editing a special issue of Religions entitled Focusing on the Elusive: Centering on Religious and Spiritual Influences within Contexts of Child and Young Adulthood Development. Despite pervasive religious and spiritual influences (R/S), they are often overlooked in developmental scholarship given that R/S beliefs and practices are embedded in social and cultural ecologies of family and community life. In addition to other social groups, our special issue brings into focus three papers that highlight religious and spiritual experiences of Asian or Asian American children and youth and the interplay of cultural, linguistic, gendered, health, and geographic factors.

In particular, I am inspired by the methods and messages in Hira Makes a Sound: Nepali Diasporic Worldviewing through Asian American Studies Praxis during the COVID-19 Anti-Asian Hate Pandemics (Ty et al., 2023). The authors of the scholarly paper and the collaboratively developed story book Hira Makes a Sound did not intend to focus on religious themes in relation to child development and coping with the dual pandemics. Yet, their integrated research and teaching show how Asian American Studies facilitated a community-centered, women-led co-production of knowledge. The intergenerational Nepali immigrant story foregrounds religious, cultural, and spiritual dimensions of a diasporic family and community life that are essential to coping and development. The story-based data themes are ground in the ether of a shared Gurung worldview and provide lessons for researchers, educators, artists, and community advocates who work with or need to account for the lived experiences of children within religiously diverse, multi-generational immigrant households and communities.

Why is such compelling storied scholarship underrepresented in our professional societies, scholarly products, and interventions?

If you have any thoughts about your experiences with the Asian Caucus, that you would like to share.

I appreciate the inclusive and welcoming experiences I have had with the Asian Caucus. In particular, the leadership-membership of the SRCD Quad-Caucuses and our synergistic grass-roots organizing is expanding knowledge of child development in humanizing, asset-based ways.

I hope we can “connect our dots” and build on synergistic capacity for transformative research-theory-practice contributions to practice and policy.  I look forward to co-chairing the SRCD Ethnic Racial Issues (ERI) Committee with Dr. Yijie Wang. In addition, I serve on the Program Committee of the Society for Study of Human Development (SSHD).  We welcome your proposals to the October 2023 conference in Philadelphia and contributing to a new (more inclusive) science of human thriving. https://sshdonline.org/2023_conference/

Any upcoming talks or presentations we should know about?

I will be presenting a paper “Integration or Separation: Navigating Religious and Cultural Funds of Knowledge in Education” at the virtual American Educational Research Association (AERA) meeting in May 2023.

I look forward to the meeting of the Society for the Study of Emerging Adulthood (SSEA) in June 2023. I will be sharing work across several contexts related to personal-professional identity development of teacher candidates and practitioner-scholars and ecologically valid methods we can draw from to better understand complex processes.

I look forward to connecting with folks at and beyond these meetings!

A weblink you prefer to share

Institutional Website: https://www.umb.edu/faculty_staff/bio/mona_abo_zena

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