Global Spotlight: Dr. Jie Zhang
Title: Professor of Special Education
Education: PhD, Tennessee Technological University and BS, Jiangsu Institute of Petrochemical Technology (now Changzhou University)
Home Country: China
Tell us a bit about your background, how it led you to SUNY Brockport & what made you want to teach?
My parents were my first teachers. As a child of two professors, I grew up with my parents’ passion for knowledge and students. The college students of my parents called Sundays “the day to improve the living standard” when they were invited to our home for delicious dishes. My father hurried to take his student to the hospital by bike late one night and stayed there until the end of their emergency operation. Often, my family was invited to graduation commencements for their students and families, where we celebrated their accomplishments, sharing the joy of growth, the excitement about a new journey, and a little bit of sadness at their departure. All these moments are planted in my mind so deeply and vividly, and my parents instilled in me the dream to become a teacher just like them – to love and to give.
My students are the reasons why I am here at SUNY Brockport. I follow a teacher-scholar-service model adopted from my doctoral advisor. In this model, all the instructional activities, research projects, and community service are interrelated. I make intentional connections between research and practice, and support students to learn and grow into professional educators.
What international research or collaborations are you working on today?
Being international and serving as a bridge to help make connections are always a part of me. Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) provides me wonderful opportunities to help make connections for my Brockport students around the world. I have been working with international partner professors in Brazil, China, France, Mexico, Sweden, and Ukraine through COIL courses and related research.
Do you have tools or techniques you use in the classroom that add a cultural dimension?
COIL courses internationalize the curricula and provide students cross-cultural, cross-linguistic, and cross-disciplinary diverse experiences. They aim to support students to develop knowledge and skills on some joint content topics across countries, to enhance communication skills across cultures and disciplines using technology, and to improve intercultural competence.
Can you describe noticeable cultural differences from your educational structure compared to the US classroom dynamic?
A traditional Chinese educational structure is lecture-based and the teachers are recognized as the experts. That was how I learned from K-16 in China. The US classroom is more dynamic and my current teaching style is very different from how I learned in China. My teaching is more student-centered, inquiry-based, and project-based. I facilitate my students to explore knowledge and develop skills in the learning process.
How do you integrate your background into your teaching?
Growing up in a collectivistic culture, I firmly believe in collaboration, shared responsibility, and teamwork. These are also essential traits for teachers. To better prepare my teacher candidates for their careers, I bring team projects into my courses, which offer students opportunities to develop their communication and collaboration skills and to apply their learning into practice. I also work closely with teachers in the K-12 school settings to help my teacher candidates stay connected with the field.
Describe the most important (or most celebrated) holiday of your culture.
Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year 新年) is the most important holiday in China. It’s the time to celebrate the completion of another year, welcome a new year, and show appreciation to family members and friends. Traditionally we gather together with family, especially with the extended family members, enjoy a lot of food, and wear new clothes. The kids will receive the “red envelopes” (红包) with money from the parents, grandparents, and elders.
Since the Lunar New Year always falls into the spring semester at SUNY Brockport, and often I was teaching on the Lunar New Year Eve, my family has kept the tradition of “red envelops” for my kids, but simplified the New Year Eve dinner (年夜饭).
Is there a favorite dish from your home country that you miss?
Dumplings (饺子) is my favorite Chinese dish. It is “ground meat and/or vegetable filling wrapped into a thinly rolled piece of dough, which is then sealed by pressing the edges together” (Wikipedia, 2021). I like the boiled dumplings served with vinegar dip. I learned how to make dumplings when I was young, and passed this traditional food to my kids, so we make them together as a special family while we are far away from home.
Are there international organizations or communities in the Western, NY area that you are involved with?
The International Faculty and Staff Association (IFSA) was extended and expanded from the Faculty Learning Community on “Supporting International and Faculty of Color” through the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) in 2019-2020.
The mission of IFSA is to enhance professional success by professional development opportunities in the areas of teaching, scholarship, and service, as appropriate, of international faculty and staff, and to support students, through collaboration, community building, mutual support, advocacy, professional development, mentorship, and networking.
All faculty and staff members who self-identify as international individuals -regardless of status- and allies at SUNY Brockport are welcome and encouraged to join IFSA.