Student Spotlight: Hyun-Seok (Edward) Cheon, Doctoral Student
Edward Cheon has a BA in Social Welfare and an MSW degree. His practice experience includes clinical therapy at the Kirkbride Center in Philadelphia, and coordinating a university-community partnership at the Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development. He also conducted preliminary research regarding the implementation of character-based education in K-12 at a public policy organization in South Korea.
In this interview, Edward talks about the experiences that inform his research agenda as a doctoral student at JACSW.
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What first attracted you to social work?
I lived in Canada for 10 years when I was young, and my mom came with me as a guardian, but my dad remained in South Korea. During this time, I didn’t really have a father figure in my life and I experienced some bullying in school. I ended up having an identity crisis; was I Canadian or South Korean? Then, while I was in high school, the company my dad worked at went bankrupt and we experienced a lot of financial turmoil. Because of all of this, I did not do well in school. But, one of our neighbors, who I call my Canadian grandmother, helped me find my path through community service, working at a children’s summer camp. The experience of working with those young people is what led me on the path to social work.
What is the most important thing you learned at the Kirkbride Center, working with people recovering from substance use?
I learned mainly that all of the clients we served came from different backgrounds and had many different life perspectives. I think especially within social work we talk about the need to be culturally sensitive and accept people’s lived experiences, and help transform those experiences in a strengths-based manner. So, being in that sphere and being exposed to those different clients was a key learning experience for me.
Please tell us about your experience with K-12 character-based education in South Korea.
I had gone back to South Korea to visit my family, and I learned that We Start Headquarters, a sort of think tank in South Korea, was doing a pilot study about character-based education. The South Korean government wanted a program to promote things such as civic virtue, responsibility, and national identity, partly in response to a rise in bullying and school violence. So, I did research for that pilot study, analyzing qualitative data from students and teachers about what they thought was and was not effective about the program.
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Within social work we talk about the need to be culturally sensitive and accept people’s lived experiences, and help transform those experiences in a strengths-based manner. So, being in that sphere and being exposed to those different clients was a key learning experience for me
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How does character education compare to social emotional learning in the U.S.?
A lot of the character education we used was actually brought in from America. Comparing South Korean education to the U.S., many scholarly concepts, theories, and frameworks are similar. At end of the day, it’s not that there are fundamental differences, the critical issue is how to implement them in a culturally specific way. .
In Philadelphia, you coordinated a program which prepares low-income high school students to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. What did you learn there?
The high schools I worked at had predominantly Black students, and there were clear disparities in funding and resources. Many of those schools had nonprofit organizations working in them and, in my opinion, there was an issue of nonprofit management within the schools. I had assumed that having a variety of services available would improve academic performance, but students complained that there were too many services, or too much overlap of services, which was confusing for them. And at times there was actual competition between some of the organizations. We often talk about trauma and community violence as impacting student performance, but school administration and NPO management can also impact student well-being and quality of education.
For your MSW, you concentrated in macro social work; what attracts you to working at the macro level?
In each of my experiences I have met a lot of different people with different perspectives. I have also realized that peoples’ perspectives may change based on geography, even within the United States. In a micro setting we learn about clinical interventions, but even though you might have expertise in these interventions and can be attuned to cultural issues, it’s not getting at the larger macro issues that are operating to continue oppression for a variety of different communities. I want to see how these systems affect the general population, not just a specific population.
I’ve been thinking that social work programs are often located in large urban areas, serving urban populations, but I am also interested in social work in rural areas where it may be mostly conservative or white. If we want to reach our message, our values, and our mission as social workers, we need to effectively address a lot of these issues that are happening across the U.S., or across South Korea.
What attracted you to JACSW?
I applied to many universities, but the main reason I ended up coming to UIC was that I reached out to a current PhD student, and she convinced me that the program at JACSW was a really supportive environment and that I would learn a lot here in Chicago. I have been in Berkeley on the West Coast, and Philadelphia on the East Coast, and now I’m in the Midwest in Chicago and I’m very happy to be here.
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I heard horror stories from the clients about lack of continuity in services. To more effectively serve these people, we need better organizational management and collaboration that will deliver more integrated care.
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What was your role as a research assistant on Dr. Kathryn Bocanegra’s project, Between a Bullet and its Target?
This opportunity was a blessing because Dr. Bocanegra is on top of the game in community violence and violence intervention. After learning about the population we were studying, street intervention workers in Chicago, she allowed me to do data collection and a literature review. I also did some basic descriptive statistical analysis. This semester we are looking at street intervention in Kansas City, and I’m collecting data on how many NPOs are involved in street intervention and how many homicide or shooting cases there have been.
One of the goals of Dr. Bocanegra’s project is dissemination of the study’s findings to support the well-being of street intervention workers. The literature review revealed that there’s not much literature on street intervention workers, but there’s a lot about police and firefighters, so the findings of the study will be very useful, and that is important. What good is powerful research if it’s not disseminated to the public or the people who can actually use the information?
Your research interest is examining institutional collaboration; was that formed through your experience in Philadelphia?
From my experience there, I have seen how ineffective collaboration can undermine trust between organizations and how that can directly affect students or clients. So, I decided that is where I want to focus. I also saw this at the Kirkbride Center, with delivery of services for recovering substance users. I heard horror stories from the clients about lack of continuity in services. To more effectively serve people, we need better organizational management and collaboration that will deliver more integrated care. Macro practice is often focused on policy, but I want to look at how organizational management and collaboration can impact social issues and improve the delivery of services.
Is there anything you’d like to add about your work or your experience at JACSW?
I realize that many other students at Jane Addams actually come from the communities that are experiencing the issues they care about. For me it is the opposite, and I love meeting the different people and balancing the different issues. It is that diversity and eclecticism that I value here at UIC. And that includes being challenged. When I was at another university, the one thing I disliked was that everyone agreed with me. I prefer to be in an environment where I am challenged and can synthesize different perspectives and experiences.
Prior to coming to JACSW, the people I talked to said the faculty and staff are all very supportive regarding your education, and sometimes that can be a phrase that is just tossed around. The word support can mean many things. But upon coming here, I have really felt that. The faculty are truly supportive regarding formulating your research question, how to think about the research question, and how to formulate that into actual research. Anytime I have had a question, the faculty have been responsive and supportive, and that makes it feel like a community or a family.