Laura Paisley Main image by Marc Campos
Professor Jane Hong teaches three students in a classroom

The associate professor of history will use the funds to help bridge the gap between academic research and K-12 education by leading a two-week summer institute on AAPI histories for middle and high school teachers.

Working as a Teach for America teacher after college, Occidental College Associate Professor of History Jane Hong remembers how difficult it was to cover everything she wanted to talk about in her curriculum and pitch content to the New Jersey middle and high school students she taught.

More recently, her work leading education workshops nationally with the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History has gotten her increasingly interested in thinking about how U.S. history is taught outside of college classrooms.

Jane Hong in a pink top
Associate Professor of History Jane Hong. Photo courtesy of Hong.

These experiences informed Hong’s successful application for a National Endowment for Humanities grant in the amount of $174,994, which was announced this month. The grant was written in partnership with the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History, a New York-based nonprofit that serves K-12 history educators across the country, interfacing between scholars, educators and state and local officials.

Attempting to bridge the gap between the work of academic historians and what young people are learning in schools, Hong’s institute will provide 36 6th-12th-grade educators from across the nation with a two-week intensive course on Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) histories. The residential institute, to be held on the Occidental campus next July, will feature top scholars, filmmakers and community activists from Southern California and beyond.

Hong says this approach is especially compelling because she and many of her fellow academics want to ensure their work isn’t confined to the academy, which is rather narrow with a limited audience. Hong is committed to a practical approach, providing content that is useful for these teachers to employ in their classrooms.

“It’s really meaningful for me because I can take what I know and try to serve much broader audiences, particularly K-12 students,” she says. “Thinking about how to translate what academics are doing to general audiences has been one of the most exciting experiences I’ve had in my academic career.”

Thinking about how to translate what academics are doing to general audiences has been one of the most exciting experiences I’ve had in my academic career.

This will be the second teacher institute Hong has led at Occidental. The first, co-sponsored by the Gilder-Lehrman Institute and the Spencer Foundation, brought 33 California public school teachers to Occidental in summer 2018 to learn about California immigration history.

“It was one of the most rewarding teaching experiences I’ve had because not only was I talking to teachers, but I was thinking about how the content would then be disseminated in classrooms across the state,” Hong says.

One of the teachers who participated in the institute was Karalee Wong Nakatsuka ’89, a veteran middle school U.S. history teacher and the 2019 Gilder Lehrman History Teacher of the Year for California. A teacher in Arcadia, Nakatsuka will serve as the master teacher for the July 2024 institute.

In the midst of the current “history wars” regarding critical race theory and what gets taught in K-12 classrooms, Hong feels it’s more important than ever to tap into academic expertise and share the histories of immigration, racial identity, citizenship and political movements. She considers these histories relevant to all Americans.

“I don’t think scholars have all the answers,” Hong says, “but I think they try to be very thoughtful about how they respond to these questions.”