#OISEGrad24: OISE international student transforms journalism background into educational policy impact

By Marianne Lau
June 5, 2024
Lu Wang, a young Chinese woman, is wearing glasses and a white blouse, and smiling at the camera.
Of all her achievements at OISE, Lu Wang’s proudest was securing a competitive co-op placement with the Ministry of Education (photo by Marianne Lau)

Lu Wang’s passion for education was sparked in a completely different field.

A Beijing-based education journalist with many years reporting in the field, Wang’s passion for education ignited during a 2018 freelance assignment in Thailand. There, she investigated the growing trend of Chinese parents sending their children to the country’s international schools. Over two weeks, she uncovered the challenges they faced, such as adjusting to these schools culturally and linguistically, the immense pressure to succeed, and the strains placed on familial relationships.

That experience sparked a keen interest in immigrant parental engagement in their children’s schooling, and a desire to understand and influence education systems. This interest deepened further in 2020 when Wang became a mother herself, culminating in her decision to chase her curiosities and pursue a master of education in educational leadership and policy (ELP) at OISE.

On June 7, Wang will cross the stage at Convocation Hall, having not only completed her degree but also secured a full-time position as a policy analyst with the Ministry of Education. She now also has a new dream of completing a PhD.

Embracing every opportunity

Wang chose the ELP program after extensive research and deliberation. She was drawn to the program’s renowned faculty and the possibility of a co-op placement with the Ministry of Education, which was particularly appealing given her interest in policy. She also discovered that the program drew teachers and principals from local school boards, further fueling her excitement to learn from their experiences.

When she arrived at OISE, Wang was amazed by the variety of opportunities available to students to pursue their interests. "There are so many lectures, presentations and activities you can engage in," she said. “It feels like you don’t need to go outside — the world comes to you.”

Believing that “every opportunity is precious," Wang sought out as many as she could at U of T, including working as a doctoral registration assistant, mentoring students at the Munk School of Global Affairs' Global Ideas Institute, and assisting students with intellectual disabilities at Community Living ޾ֲ in exploring their interests.

She even pursued opportunities that felt beyond her reach and secured graduate assistantships with Professors Claudia Diaz Rios and Jane Knight — positions she initially thought were reserved for doctoral students.

Remarking on Wang’s eagerness to embrace new experiences in all aspects of her life, Professor Knight, one of her mentors, recalls: “Lu arrived at OISE totally committed to her academic program but very curious to learn and experience the Canadian way of life. She, her husband, and young son deliberately took advantage of many new experiences, such as staying in a yurt during a snowstorm — and being very surprised to find bear paw prints around the tent in the morning!”

From co-op to policy analyst

Of all her achievements at OISE, Wang’s proudest was securing a competitive co-op placement with the Ministry of Education after facing multiple rejections. Her persistence paid off, as she kept applying and improving her resume. As a junior policy analyst, Wang designed policies to support students at risk of not completing high school. Encouraged by this experience, Wang applied for a full-time role and now works as a policy analyst with the Ministry’s Indigenous Education and Wellbeing division.

Although she thrived at OISE, Wang also faced many challenges as an international student and parent, most notably the language barrier. While Wang struggled with course content and writing assignments in her first year, she credits U of T's wide array of support services, such as the Graduate Centre for Academic Communication, for improving her skills. She also benefited from the consistent support of her professors, especially Dr. Knight, a renowned expert in international higher education, with whom she worked as a graduate assistant.

Despite her initial lack of background in higher education, Wang says that Knight was encouraging, patient, and supportive. “I remember that whenever I met with Professor Knight, she would ask me, ‘What are your interests? What are your questions? How can I help you?’” recalls Wang. “She genuinely wanted me to succeed and taught me from the ground up.”

With Dr. Knight, Wang gained insights into the intricacies of conducting high-level research, from methodologies to analysis and the book-writing process. Currently, the pair are collaborating on a book, and Wang feels honoured that Knight is involving her so closely in this project.

The feeling is mutual for Knight. “We were researching contemporary education hubs around the world, and even though this was a new topic to her, Lu adopted it with enthusiasm and demonstrated her superior research and writing skills gained from her previous career as a journalist,” she said. “She both surprised and impressed me with the new information she found and the relevant questions she asked. Her curiosity and passion for learning are remarkable.”

‘Not my last convocation’

Transitioning from journalism to research has felt like a natural progression for Wang. Both fields involve rigorous research and a dedication to delivering valuable insights. However, Wang sees research as a way to explore complex issues more deeply and generate information that can have a lasting impact. She cites OISE professor Kang Lee’s ability to shape legislation and legal procedures as an example of what she aspires to.

This is why pursuing doctoral studies feels like the next logical step for Wang — but until then, she is eager to gain practical experience working with school boards, parents, and students to enrich her future research.

For now, Wang is eagerly anticipating convocation day, where she will celebrate alongside her husband and young son, who is also graduating—from daycare—this summer.

“I hope this is not my last convocation,” she says with a smile. “I’m looking forward to wearing the red gown when I receive my PhD.”

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