As a first-generation American, HyeJung Park entered college at Arizona State University as part of the California Dream Act and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Later, she enlisted in the Army Reserves, allowing her to begin her doctoral studies and earn her citizenship through the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program.
“These state- and federal-level programs hugely impacted my life and I want to be in the room when similar discussions are being held for future policies,” Park said.
That and her firsthand experience with the difficulties and stressors that immigrants face have inspired the 2022 ASU Department of Psychology doctoral graduate to pursue a career in public policy. One of Park’s goals is to advocate for psychological research to improve the lives of children, adolescents and families.
This week, she was announced as a finalist for the Presidential Management Fellows program. As a Presidential Management Fellow, Park will go through an intensive two-year training program in Washington, D.C., and be on the fast track to developing into a future government and policy leader. She hopes to be an effective liaison between the developmental psychology research community and Congress, to inform public policy development, implementation and evaluation.
“I hope that my work in public policy positively impacts someone else,” Park said.
Earlier this year, Park was also selected as one of four Pat Tillman Scholars who served as honorary captains at the 2023 Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. Park was selected from over 800 Tillman Scholars to assist with the coin flip at the beginning of the game.
In light of these achievements, Park has not lost sight of the programs and people that have helped her along the way, especially when, halfway through her graduate studies, she was deployed to the Middle East and had to take a yearlong leave of absence to serve.
“The transition in and out of the deployment was made possible through the support of Dr. Leah Doane and the Pat Tillman Veterans Center,” Park said.
While deployed, Park proposed the idea of analyzing crime data that paired well with the ecological momentary assessment data that the Transiciones project was collecting. With the full support of her mentor Doane, Park was able to pursue her research interests while being deployed. Together, they came up with a research protocol for research assistants to collect the data and distribute it to Park to analyze.
“I asked for three to four research assistants that I could guide through all of the data recording and collecting. I could just manage from afar, because it wasn’t time-sensitive data,” said Park. “While the project was generated from my idea, none of it would have been possible without Dr. Doane’s endless support and encouragement. She called every two weeks while I was deployed just to make sure I was safe and faring well. She went above and beyond what was asked of her as an academic advisor. I am truly grateful for her commitment to her mentees.
“She emphasized that it's OK to step back, but if I wanted to pursue this project and rise up to the challenge, here’s the support she could provide. While it was a stressor to do all of this while deployed, the support I received allowed me to succeed in that context and eventually to defend my dissertation."
Park’s research broadly examines protective factors that buffer life stressors among marginalized youth. In her dissertation, Park wanted to examine neighborhood factors (i.e., opportunities, crime, etc.) and their potential impacts on later sleep- and weight-related indicators, like body fat percentage, for children. She then looked at the moderating and mediating effects of parental cultural values, parent-child relationships and parental stressors.
“What was really cool is that in terms of contextualizing the environmental factors, we were able to collect something called the Childhood Opportunities Index. These are socioeconomic, educational and environmental strengths that exist within a neighborhood,” said Park. “Utilizing that as an important context and framing this index as an environmental asset, we were able to unpack the ways in which people could actually engage with their neighborhood and the impact it has on later health.”
The Childhood Opportunities Index takes into account both perceived and actual opportunities, and measures the quality of resources and conditions that matter for children to develop in a healthy way in the neighborhoods where they live.
In this dissertation research, she found that there was no significant direct association between perceived neighborhood danger and the Childhood Opportunities Index; however, there was a relationship between the role of parenting and perceived neighborhood danger and its impact on the quality of sleep in children.
“HyeJung is a changemaker — her path to pursuing a doctorate in developmental psychology is one of resilience and perseverance. Importantly, her chosen course of research — examining neighborhood influences on educational and health trajectories for minoritized youth — will contribute to our understanding of how to promote equitable academic and health outcomes for all youth in the United States. Importantly, her desire and abilities to translate and communicate research to stakeholders illustrate our ASU Charter of both conducting and disseminating research to the communities that we represent and serve,” said Doane.
Park is eschewing the traditional academic faculty route to pursue public policy in order to make legislative changes for those who need it most.
“Public policy distills the data, literature and recommendations of researchers to see how we can apply these best practices to be able to benefit the most people,” said Park, “not just for the people of today, but of tomorrow. It’s such a collaborative effort, and even though you are just a piece within this giant puzzle, you are making a difference.”
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