Beyond the Center: An Academic Family

When Li “Emily” Luo came to the University of Florida College of Education in 2012 she came with a mission — to learn all she could about the field of early childhood learning and development from the Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies. But after joining the center, she found that she would not only grow professionally, but would also gain an academic family.

“Everyone in the center was so friendly, kind and supportive from the moment I joined the team,” she said.

Before joining the center, Emily studied Early Childhood Education at Northeast Normal University and Beijing Normal University where she cultivated her passion for working with children in the classroom.

Emily had the opportunity to work and play with young children during her sophomore year. She learned about classroom practices as part of the weekly observations and recalls these memories fondly.

“To them [children], I was a stranger, but they held my hands, gave me their drawings as gifts, invited me to their birthday parties, hugged me and said “I like you” with smiles,” she said.

These first experiences in the classroom helped her begin to understand how children learn and develop. From seeing how the teachers interacted with their young students, she knew that a career in the field of early childhood studies was right for her.

Li "Emily" Luo

Li “Emily” Luo
Ph.D. in Special Education/Early Childhood Studies, University of Florida
M.S. in Early Childhood Education, Beijing Normal University
B.S. in Early Childhood Education, Northeast Normal University
B.A. in Chinese Literature, Northeast Normal University

“From my experience in that classroom, I felt a career in early childhood studies would be rewarding and I wanted to learn more about building high-quality, responsive relationships with young children,” she said.

While working toward her master’s degree, Emily was interested in researching preschool teachers’ implementation of social-emotional practices and found UF Distinguished Professor and Anita Zucker Center Director Patricia Snyder’s journal articles. Through reading Snyder’s research, Emily realized she needed to learn more from her and made the decision to apply to UF to study with her.

“Once I learned more about Dr. Snyder’s research areas and projects, I wanted to become her student and applied for the doctoral program in Special Education with an early childhood focus at UF,” she said. “Fortunately, my dream of studying at UF under Dr. Snyder’s guidance came true, and [I] became a student member of the Anita Zucker Center. I consider myself very fortunate to have been one of Dr. Snyder’s students.”

Emily feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to have had Dr. Snyder’s mentorship and the rest of the faculty at the center.

Once she began her doctoral program and her work with the center, Emily found invaluable mentorship from Dr. Snyder, who continues to be a mentor for her.

“I am so grateful for Dr. Snyder’s and other faculty’s ongoing guidance, caring, and encouragement in both my professional and personal lives,” Emily said. “I especially appreciate the individualized mentoring, attention and support that I received from Dr. Snyder, whom I consider my ‘academic mother.’ Dr. Snyder has always made herself available to support my research interests and projects, my future career, and me.”

Emily remembers their weekly advising meetings at UF as well as weekend meetings at a coffee shop and frequent Skype calls that she and Snyder had to discuss her research projects and dissertation. She also expressed her gratitude toward Drs. Snyder and Reichow for providing her continuous support after graduation.

“I am so thankful for all that she has done for me,” she said. “A garden of beautiful memories with Dr. Snyder and my other UF academic family members come back to me every time I think of my doctoral training program at UF.”

To learn about Emily’s professional journey, we reconnected to discuss her life and experiences since leaving the center. Today, Emily is an assistant professor in the College of Preschool Education at the Capital Normal University in Beijing, China.

After leaving the center in 2017, Emily brought all she learned from the center with her to her new position as an assistant professor, known as a lecturer position, at Capital Normal University in China.

In China, Normal universities put an emphasis on teacher preparation and training and educational research. More than 80 percent of Beijing’s public preschool directors had their training at Capital Normal University.

“For me, it’s a great position so I can continue my study and career in the early childhood field,” she said.

Li "Emily" Luo

Currently, she teaches several courses including Observing and Assessing Young Children, Preschool Social Education, and Development and Learning of Children with Special Needs. Her course Development and Learning of Young Children with Special Needs is the only special education course in her college, and despite being an elective course has high enrollments each time it is taught.

“The majority of these students will become preschool teachers in Beijing upon their graduation, and I believe they will be more positive and capable of working with young children with special needs in their classrooms,” Emily said.

When looking forward to her career as a faculty member, Emily says that she hopes to create the same atmosphere of support and rigor for her own students that she experienced at UF. She recommends that students interested in research look to the center, but for all to never forget what made them interested in the field in the first place.

Emily keeps the mantra “never forget why you started, and your mission can be accomplished” in mind as she continues her journey.

“Keep your passion and commitment to the field of early childhood studies, and dedicate yourself to learning from young children, their families and professionals who work with them,” she said.

WRITER: Macayla Bricarell, communications intern, UF College of Education

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