GAINESVILLE, Florida  – Pengfei Zhao, assistant professor in the School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education, has been named a recipient of the National Academy of Education and Spencer Foundation’s Postdoctoral Fellowship for the 2021 year.

This fellowship is one of the highest honors for those early in their career in higher education. Zhao joins two other University of Florida faculty members to receive this distinction, Damon Clark, assistant professor in the department of economics from 2005-2011, and the College of Education’s own F. Chris Curran have both received this award previously.

“This recognition means a lot to me as I am still at the early stage of my career,” Zhao said. “I truly appreciate the opportunity to spend more time writing my book in the coming year.”.

Zhao draws from critical theory, pragmatism and feminism to develop social justice-oriented research. She is interested in the dynamics between cultures, policies, political contexts and social structures and how they shape children and youth’s educational experiences.

“I am devoted to using qualitative research to serve our society, community and, in particular, our minoritized and marginalized societal members,” she said. “I believe that qualitative research can empower us in our pursuit of social justice and equity.”

Zhao plans on using her time in the fellowship to focus on her research and transition her dissertation into a book manuscript. Her dissertation, “Changing Fate: The Cultural Revolution’s Rural Youth in Transition to Post-Mao China,” explores the origin of neoliberalism in China through education reforms in the late 1970s and the effect on the lived experiences of disadvantaged rural Chinese youth.

Before joining UF, Zhao was an instructor and research consultant at Indiana University Bloomington where she taught research methodology courses at the university. While teaching, she became involved in an action research project studying students’ experiences, challenges and growth in an intro-level research methodology class. The project has since morphed into a book, Making Sense of Social Research Methodology A Student and Practitioner Centered Approach.

“The UF College of Education is delighted to have Dr. Pengfei Zhao receive the very prestigious National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship!” said Dean Glenn Good.  “These respected fellowships enable early-career scholars to make significant scholarly contributions to the field of education.  

“In this case, Dr. Zhao’s “Changing Fate” project will advance our understanding of national educational reforms and their subsequent impacts on disadvantaged youth and society. It will simultaneously provide insights into the practical application of advanced research methodologies.”

As recipient of the NAEd Postdoctoral Fellowship, Zhao will attend professional development conferences and retreats with other fellows and receive $70 thousand to support her research over the next year.

Pengfei Zhao