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Grad students to present research on diversity

BY AUDREY SMITH | JANUARY 28, 2011 7:10 AM

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Abbie Kramer wants to teach kids about diversity using skits. But instead of actors, she wants to use puppets.

The University of Iowa Ph.D. candidate envisions kindergartners sitting cross-legged on the floor as they listen to the puppet onstage, a boy named Nam who feels torn between his American and Vietnamese cultures. In another skit, a puppet explains living with deafness.

Kramer said skits such as these are a great way to teach children about diversity.

Kramer is one of 13 graduate students who will display diversity-related research projects at this afternoon’s Martin Luther King Jr. Research Symposium. For her project, she utilizes skits from Kids on the Block Inc., an organization that uses puppet shows to help kids discuss topics related to diversity. Like the others in the presentation, Kramer’s project embodies the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the inspiration for the two-week celebration culminating in today’s symposium.

“Although my project isn’t about race, it’s about teaching children that just because someone looks different or talks different, they can still play together, and that’s OK,” she said.

Georgina Dodge, the UI’s chief diversity officer and the keynote speaker for the Research Symposium, said she hopes the presentation will allow participants to embrace King’s idea of the “beloved community” and become truly aware of diversity.

“We hear [the word diversity] often enough that we don’t think about what it really means,” she said.

And graduate students in the symposium will show the meaning of diversity not only through puppet shows for kindergartners but also with enrichment programs for UI international students.

Hong Ryun Woo, a UI doctoral student in counselor education and support, will present a project on international students whose unique issues she feels the university should address. After surveying UI international graduate students and identifying the problems they face, Woo decided to create an enrichment program for Korean international students, especially those with spouses and children, to help them adjust to life in the United States.

UI graduate research assistant Sharon Lee, the organizer of the symposium, wrote in an e-mail the projects will be evaluated by a panel of judges prior to the presentation on criteria such as the topic’s relationship to diversity and the student’s presentation skills.

She also said she felt the symposium was a sound conclusion to this year’s celebration of King.

“I think it is fitting, because the symposium is really about the future leaders and researchers,” she said. “We are showcasing their work and where research on diversity issues are going. It is this research that will help shape the interventions, methods, and thinking about diversity in the future.”


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