Student Profile: Helyn Kim Returns to Curry to Focus on Researching Early Foundational Skills


Helyn Kim
3rd year Ph.D student in the Educational Psychology-Applied Development Science (EP-ADS) program at the Curry School of Education, a researcher at the Center for Advanced Student of Teaching and Learning (CASTL), and a Virginia Educational Science Training (VEST) pre-doctoral fellow.
Hometown: Annandale, VA

Question: Why did you choose the Curry School of Education?

Helyn KimKim: I got my undergraduate degree at U.Va. and worked as a research assistant in the Social Development Lab at CASTL. After graduating, I taught preschool special education for three years. I felt like as a teacher I didn’t have a lot of knowledge as to what methods and practices I should be using to help my students and why. We were asked to implement programs or practices without being given any reason as to why or evidence that they work. And, these programs and methods changed each year. This experience really highlighted the important role that research plays in education. I decided to get my Masters degree in developmental psychology and became interested in exploring children’s early foundational skills as it relates to other important school-related outcomes. I wrote my thesis on associations between early fine motor skills and cognitive and social skills in preschool children with developmental disabilities. I decided that I wanted to continue doing research on early foundational skills and applied to the Educational Psychology-Applied Developmental Science program.

Question: Where are you working now that you are enrolled in the Educational Psychology-Applied Developmental Science program?

Kim: I work in the Foundations of Cognition and Learning (FOCAL) lab at CASTL. Through working in FOCAL lab, I’ve learned a lot about how research is run in real life, where experts come together to problem solve and take on different roles in implementing interventions. I am really glad to have this experience because my research skills have grown a lot, and I have the opportunity to work across lots of different projects where I have a new role in each of them. I’m being trained in unique ways.

Question: What are you working on now?

Kim: My work is very interdisciplinary. I feel that I can bring in different questions, frameworks or theories that I am interested in to explore, which fits well with the FOCAL lab given the range of backgrounds and expertise. Currently, I’m interested in early foundational skills of children and how it related to outcomes. Right now, I’m looking at different early skills—like visuospatial skills and executive functioning—and how those work together to help children’s math achievement. We are looking at what is driving these connections and breaking it down further. This is important because we could figure out how to boost early learning and be more purposeful in helping teachers sort out the complex things happening in the classroom.

Question: In what ways has the Curry School and the Educational Psychology program influenced you?

Kim: This academic program has provided opportunities that have allowed me to develop my research skills in ways other programs would not have. The program deliberately provides scaffolding for students in the early part of their careers, and exposes students to opportunities that help to build your own line of research. In particular, I really appreciate the prosem and speaker series that we attend each semester because this allows us to not only learn about an area of research that we may not necessarily be familiar with, but also provides us with the opportunity to meet and talk with the speakers, who are experts in their fields. Furthermore, my advisers and mentors have provided countless hours of support and conversations that have provided a great learning experience for me.

In the future, Kim hopes to be doing early childhood research where I am working in a collaborative setting on issues of policy and practice. She is also a fellow in the Virginia Education Sciences Training (VEST), a pre-doctoral fellowship program funded by the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences.