Graduate Phong Kuoch (centre) with Faculty of Education professors Diane Dagenais (L) and June Beynon (R).

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PhD hypes hip hop for high schoolers

June 10, 2014

High school English teacher Phong Kuoch’s love for learning has permeated his entire life. A career student, he hasn’t taken a break from school since kindergarten.

Growing up as a Chinese immigrant in a predominately white neighborhood, Kuoch learned early that education was the key to ending his sense of marginalization in a dominant culture.

After earning an SFU BA and Professional Development Program certification as a teacher, Kuoch went on to earn an SFU MA in education while working full-time.

He then spent two years as a faculty associate, working with student teachers in SFU’s International Teacher Education Program in Trinidad and Tobago.

Now, after a further five years of graduate studies, he is graduating with a PhD in education.

In his graduate theses, Kuoch explored his fascination with ideas involving race, culture, identity and social agency.

His MA research studied how young people engage with race and humour to understand difficult socio-cultural concepts.

For his PhD, Kuoch switched direction to examine the hip-hop phenomenon and how it informs youths’ self-identities. It’s a topic that first piqued his interest at age 15 during an exchange trip to an all-black school in Atlanta, Georgia.

“This is when I first experienced hip hop’s effect on the personal development and identity construction of teenagers” says Kuoch.

He drew his research subjects from the Surrey high school where he teaches English, interviewing students involved in a rap group, hip-hop dance team and slam poetry event.

He discovered that through their engagement with hip hop, marginalized students are empowered to portray alternate identities to better understand issues around racism and social agency.

Working full-time and studying hasn’t been easy, but Kuoch says his SFU experience has been invaluable.

“SFU has given me so much,” he says. “It afforded me the flexibility to be both a practitioner and researcher at the same time, making me both a better teacher and a better academic.

I have this marriage with the university that I can’t seem to divorce myself from.”

By Preeya Grewal, SFU Public Affairs & Media Relations