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May 24, 2024

Naseem Rodríguez earns national Early Career Award

Noreen Naseem Rodríguez received the Early Career Award from the Association for Asian American Studies in April 2024. The annual award recognizes those who have made valuable contributions to the Asian American studies field. 

For Naseem Rodríguez, this honor indicates that the nation is starting to see the benefit and importance of teaching Asian American histories in PK-12 schools. It also underscores why her research — which provides strategies and tools for teachers to teach these histories — is as critical as ever.  

Noreen Naseem Rodríguez

“As a former educator, I experienced wanting to teach about Asian American histories but not knowing where to start. After I moved to academia, I saw the trend continue,” Naseem Rodríguez said. “The tools were absent from the curricula. Teachers needed help finding them. My work is to try to give educators the tools they need to do their jobs better by giving them manageable options to work with.”  

She is the co-author of “Social Studies for a Better World: An Anti-Oppressive Approach for Elementary Educators” (W W Norton and Co., Inc. [2021] and Routledge [2023]). A second edition of this book, as well as an edition for high school educators, is coming in 2025.  

In 2023, she published “Teaching Asian America in Elementary Classrooms” (Routledge). It is the first book of its kind aimed at elementary educators with a transdisciplinary focus.

Community-driven research

Naseem Rodríguez credits her career trajectory with its community-based roots, and with a little help from fellow scholars.  

She taught elementary school in Texas for nine years before transitioning to academia. She decided to become a teacher educator and, in addition to her bachelor’s, completed a master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Texas-Austin. In her first year of grad school, she taught teachers from her alma mater’s teacher preparation program. When she conducted her dissertation, she worked with the same district where she had taught. 

As she continued in her scholarship, she found inspiration beyond the geographical area of Texas. She saw other scholars accomplishing similar work. For example, LaGarrett King, whom she calls one of her early mentors, was conducting similar work to help educators teach Black histories in schools. He now directs the Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education at the University at Buffalo. 

Naseem Rodríguez started her academic career fueled by her passion for supporting and celebrating the Asian American community.  

Recent legislative changes make the work more urgent. In 2021, Illinois became the first state in the nation to mandate that Asian American histories be taught in schools. Other states have since followed. 

It’s only giving Naseem Rodríguez more emphasis on the importance of her work — and why accolades, such as the one from AAAS, are so meaningful. But, more importantly, the drive remains connected with the group that started it all: teachers. 

“They make it clear why I do what I do,” Naseem Rodríguez said. 

This story originally appeared on the College of Education website. 

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