PhD in Curriculum Studies Student

Ger Thao

“My passion has always been around multicultural literature and cultural curriculum by underrepresented marginalized groups with a focus on literature by Hmong authors and the teaching of Hmong language and culture.”


Born in Thailand (grew up in northern California)


Curriculum Studies

Related Degrees

  • PhD, Education: Curriculum & Instruction

How did you become interested in the field of education? Curriculum and Instruction?
As a little girl, I didn’t always love school because having immigrated from Thailand at the age of five and being thrown into a classroom, I struggled learning English and didn’t feel like I fit in. My teachers and classmates didn’t seem to understand who I was and why my people (the Hmong) were here. It wasn’t until 5th grade that I met a teacher who saw beyond my “English deficiency” and saw the future teacher in me. She hired me as a high school tutor to help migrant students with their homework after school. That’s where I found my interest in the field of education and love of teaching.

I have always been fascinated with curriculum development, design, and implementation. I would attend any workshop or conference that I could to improve my own learning and teaching practice. I also find myself enjoying digging through new curriculum and research to stay up-to-date with the most effective strategies to enrich/supplement my students’ learning.

Where do you work?
I am currently a full-time grad student and work as the Graduate/Teaching Assistant for the Social Justice in Education Project with Dr. Amber Strong Makaiau and Dr. Patricia Halagao. This project is a collaboration between the Hanahauʻoli School Professional Development Center and the College of Education, funded by the generosity and forward thinking of longtime Teaching Tolerance supporters Jana and Howard Wolff.

I was an elementary classroom teacher for four years and then an English Language Arts Intervention Specialist for another four years. On the side, I do book readings/talks for schools, communities, and teacher organizations. I am a Hmong American author of a bilingual children’s picture book titled The Hmong Journey: Hmoob Txoj Kev Taug and Hmoob Txoj Kev Taug. I also do cultural and publishing presentations for diverse student groups and organizations.

Briefly describe your research area.
My passion has always been around multicultural literature and cultural curriculum by underrepresented marginalized groups with a focus on literature by Hmong authors and the teaching of Hmong language and culture.

My research study focuses on understanding how educators can support and connect to their culturally and linguistically diverse student population through culturally responsive and sustaining ways. This study aims to help teachers see themselves in their students, push past the superficial treatment of cultures, and get to understanding the real depth of students’ identities.

Do you participate in any clubs or organizations in or outside of school?
I am a COE Doctoral Student Association (COEDSA) Council member; an East-West Center Participant Association (EWCPA) member; a former Graduate Degree Fellow and current student affiliate of the East-West Center; a consultant for the Hmong Language and Cultural Enrichment Program (HLCEP), and a volunteer at the Waikiki Aquarium as an Education Docent.

How has the COE program impacted or benefited your career path?
I have been so blessed to have been taught and mentored by so many amazing and passionate COE faculty and staff members since the start of my program here at UHM. Every course that I have taken has inspired me to look at curriculum and instruction with a new lens including multicultural, indigenous, and Asian and Pacific Island perspectives. I am so thankful to have Dr. Patricia Halagao, who has been so supportive with my two years of coursework and continues to support me in my research, as my advisor and chair. I am also inspired by the work that I have gotten to engage in with Dr. Amber Strong Makaiau.

Is there anyone in particular who inspired you to pursue teaching as a career?
For as long as I can remember, I loved playing ‘school’ with my younger siblings and cousins. My dad was a teacher back in Thailand. and I always wanted to be just like him. He was my first teacher and continues to be my mentor. Besides my father being a role-model in teaching, I highly value my teachers and mentors who have shaped me to become an educator, and I hope that I can do the same for my students and future learners. My teachers were my heroes and have shaped me into the student, educator, and person that I am today. I hope to do the same for my students. I truly believe that a teacher can shape a child, and that child can shape the world.

What are your future visions and goals?
I want to continue to inspire and instill a love of literature in my students’ heritage spoken language(s). I also want to leave a legacy of more published culturally responsive and relevant books for classroom usage and future generations to come. My future vision and goal is to work with educators to support schools in developing and implementing curriculum and professional development that reflect diverse populations, including multicultural, indigenous, Asian and Pacific Island perspectives.

Anything else you would like to include?
I will be the first in my family to graduate with a doctorate degree. I love reading a good book while enjoying a nice sunset at the beach. I love to travel to new places, try new dishes, and explore the outdoors, especially hiking. I also enjoy spending quality time with my big family and being an auntie to my nieces and nephews.

Read the UHM Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) Spotlight story on Ger Thao.

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