UB professors receive Fulbright awards to study educational equity, democracy in Asia and Germany

By Marcene Robinson and Charles Anzalone

Release Date: March 23, 2021

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Portrait of Anya Bernstein.

Anya Bernstein, professor in the UB School of Law.

Portrait of Jaekyung Lee.

Jaekyung Lee, professor of counseling, school and educational psychology in the UB Graduate School of Education.

BUFFALO, N.Y. – University at Buffalo professors Jaekyung Lee and Anya Bernstein have received 2020-21 Fulbright Scholar Awards, one of the most widely recognized and prestigious scholarships in the world.

Lee, PhD, professor of counseling, school and educational psychology in the UB Graduate School of Education, will journey to South Korea, Vietnam and Kazakhstan to investigate educational equity, and engage in research collaborations and trainings with international universities and think tanks.

Bernstein, JD, PhD, professor in the UB School of Law, will travel to Germany to examine how democratic states create legitimacy, and will use interviews and ethnography to study German national administrators.

Lee and Bernstein were honored on March 22 at the U.S. Fulbright Scholar Program Workshop for Faculty, hosted by UB’s Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs and Office of the Vice Provost for International Education.

“This is a well-deserved honor and recognition of Dr. Lee’s excellent scholarship,” says Suzanne Rosenblith, PhD, dean and professor of the UB Graduate School of Education.

“Professor Bernstein’s scholarship is critical to our understanding of democracy at a global level,” says Aviva Abramovsky, JD, dean and professor of the UB School of Law. “We are proud of her exceptional work and pleased that it has been recognized with this prestigious award.”

The Fulbright Program, coordinated by the United States Department of State, is devoted to improving intercultural relations, diplomacy and competence between the people of the U.S. and other nations through educational exchange.

Fulbright alumni have become heads of state, judges, ambassadors, cabinet ministers, CEOs and university presidents. They include 60 Nobel Laureates, 86 Pulitzer Prize winners and 74 MacArthur Fellows, as well as leading journalists, artists, scientists and teachers.

Protecting vulnerable students

An internationally recognized leader in education policy and equity, and international and comparative education, Lee will examine how well public schools in Asia provide protective learning environments for vulnerable students to overcome adversity and succeed in school.

Amid rapid economic growth and widening social inequalities, developing nations in Asia are faced with the challenges of providing equitable education for all students, particularly high-risk populations such as female, rural, low-income, immigrant and refugee children.

Lee will explore transformative educational policies that close academic achievement and socioemotional well-being gaps for vulnerable students by analyzing international datasets, conducting in-depth case studies, interviewing education policymakers and practitioners, and visiting schools with innovative and inclusive child development programs.

“What lessons can developing nations in Asia such as Vietnam and Kazakhstan learn from South Korea? While Korea was a war-torn society held back by very low literacy levels in the early 1950s, today its young people achieve the highest level of education. However, schools in Korea struggle to cope with widening educational inequalities and socioemotional well-being problems,” says Lee. “By pursuing more effective and equitable policy interventions, I hope my Fulbright study can help improve educational opportunities and outcomes for disadvantaged children and youth across the region.”

“My ultimate goal is to inform global education policy initiatives, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal on Education, to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all,” says Lee.

Legitimizing democracy

Bernstein, who writes and teaches about administrative law, civil procedure, legal interpretation and the cultures of bureaucracy, will investigate how national administrators in Germany implement legislative policy.

Utilizing her training in both law and anthropology, she will interview public officials to learn how they view their own government and what they see as legitimate government action.

The research will be completed in affiliation with the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany.

“This project grows out of my long-term interest in the administration of democracy, which I've studied in Taiwan and the U.S. as well,” says Bernstein. “At a time when the fragility of democratic institutions has become evident, it is particularly important to understand both how these institutions actually work and how they help legitimize democratic governance to a wider public.”

She adds, “My connections with respected research institutions and government administrators will hopefully help raise awareness of UB as well, and potentially make some long-term international connections for the university.”

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