Ph.D. Candidate Q&A: Helen Min

Helen is a Ph.D. candidate in Curriculum & Instruction from Sacramento, California, studying the impact of trauma on students and how to equip teachers with trauma-sensitive practices.

Q: How did you first become interested in your field of study?

A: I became passionate about understanding the impact of trauma on students and equipping teachers with trauma-sensitive practices through my experience as an English teacher. I saw the effects of relentless community trauma disrupt classrooms and the lives of students and teachers in Baltimore City Public Schools. I witnessed students caught in the chaos of violent protests and increased lawless activities all the while grappling with the turbulence of immigrant culture-shock in Cairo during the Arab Spring. I heard students’ stories of being pushed into the train tracks and having their uniforms slashed because of their Korean heritage in Osaka, Japan. And through these experiences, I realized that teachers desperately need training to understand trauma and the jarring impacts of historical discrimination, migration, and ongoing conflict for themselves and to help build resilient students.

Q: What are your primary research interests?

A: I am interested in evaluating existing trauma-informed practices, studying the impact of trauma on adolescent development and learning, and assessing the influence of vicarious trauma on teachers. I want to conduct research on the effects of trauma therapy training on teacher wellbeing and efficacy, student behavior, and learning outcomes. My specific project would focus on incorporating trauma-sensitive techniques into urban teacher training curricula, and I am particularly interested in exploring the question: How do trauma-informed practices training among urban school teachers affect the learning environment?

Q: What made you decide to attend UVA for your Ph.D.?

A: I wanted to attend UVA to work with Dr. Patricia Jennings on advancing student outcomes through the lens of teacher preparation in the Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE) program and the integrated health and wellness curriculum in the Compassionate Schools Project. Dr. Jennings’s research on The Trauma-Sensitive Classroom, stress management training for teachers, and mindfulness practices directly relates to my research interest in equipping teachers with instructional strategies to best support at-risk students.

Q: What are your ultimate career goals?

A: I hope to continue teaching and researching in the field of trauma-informed pedagogy, extending my research to an international comparative scale. Globally, teachers in increasingly diverse classrooms faced with the challenge of mitigating the consequences of conflict, violence, and migration can benefit from and contribute to research that highlights the successes and challenges in implementing trauma-informed practices.

Q: What advice would you give to students applying to Ph.D. programs?

A: I personally spent a lot of time praying and talking with people about my passions and their experiences. I contemplated whether I could potentially give the rest of my life to studying this one thing. And in the process, I also searched for professors who share my passion and talked with them before deciding to apply to UVA to work with Dr. Jennings. I hope my journey helps you on yours!