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The post-doctoral experience

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While a small percentage of the population goes on to earn a doctorate, an even smaller, fortunate few, are accepted to continue their studies as post-doctoral fellows. These individuals, having demonstrated their capabilities in research by completing a dissertation, wish to advance even further. This narrative is about one such budding scholar, Dr. Kalpana Mukunda Iyengar who is completing a post-doctoral experience under the mentorship of Dr. Howard L. Smith in the Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies (BBL). While completing her doctorate in Interdisciplinary Studies under Dr. Roxanne Henkin, she met a biliteracy specialist that would become her mentor for this rare fellowship opportunity. In the last 10 years, the COEHD has hosted less than 10 postdoctoral fellows. Iyengar is the first fellow from the Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching and only the second in the BBL Department.


Iyengar’s dissertation chair advised Iyengar to work with Smith, who has expertise in the area of language, culture, and literacy. After several two and three hour ad hoc meetings about research interests on literacies, Indic traditions, and her dissertation, Iyengar invited Smith to join her dissertation committee. With Smith, she was able to use her foundation from ILT and expand into explorations of transmediation through culturally embedded signs and systems. 


Under Smith’s tutelage, Iyengar has advanced a research agenda that has, to date, produced 10 publications beyond her dissertation. The post-doctoral fellowship provides Iyengar with the needed support to expand her literacy inquiries into the communities of San Antonio (cf. Family Literacy Night) and abroad (cf. Critical Reader Response:Asian Indian High School Students Consider Child Marriage, in progress). Her commitment to educational equity and multiculturalism is highlighted through her upcoming co-edited volume with Smith entitled, Diversity in Society and Schools. At the time of this publication, they were also the co-guest editors for a special issue of South Asian Review Journal entitled, Growing Up in the Diaspora: South-Asian Children published by Taylor and Francis. 


They submitted a grant proposal to The Infinity Foundation that funds and supports research scholars invested in Asian Indian culture and their literacy practices. This will provide Iyengar the financial support to examine the multiple aspects of the Indic community including the sign systems embedded within the performing and creative arts (e.g., Bharatanatyam dance and Carnaticmusic). In advance of this possible funding, Iyengar and Smith (2016) published, Asian Indian Children’s Narrative Writing: An Approach to Cultural Preservation


Iyengar, with her mentor, have formulated an ambitious agenda with substantial service for her post-doctoral experience. They are currently co-editing a curated volume for multicultural, teacher preparation. She is the driving force behind the Kahani Project (culturally contextualized literacy experience for children of Asian Indian origin) and a key collaborator in Cuentos, a similar writing approach for the Mexican American community of San Antonio. 


Iyengar arranged for their Scholars-in Residence experience in India. Through that collaboration with the faculty and staff of the Devsanskrithi Vishwavidyalaya (University), in Haridwar, they were able to collect data for her research and submit one article for publication (Asian Indian Students’ Perceptions and Attitudes toward American Pedagogies with the Shakespearean Sonnet, under review in English in Texas) as well as model teaching at Gayathri Vidyapeeth K-12 school (affiliated to DSVV) in the summer of 2018. 


The mentor and mentee also co-teach classes, present in each other’s classes, engage in peer coaching, and observe each other’s instructional strategies. They have presented together in academic conferences and public schools in San Antonio. The agenda for Iyengar postdoctoral experience also includes organizing scholarly talks, and symposia, both in the U.S. and in India. In 2017, they designed curriculum and conducted a project called, Storytelling through Multiple Modalities: Dynamic Cultural Preservation at the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures. 


There have been a paucity of research efforts to better understand the needs of Indic children in U.S. schools and the ways in which cultural expressions affect academic achievement and child’s psychological well-being. Despite the scholastic success and cultural richness of Asian Indian students, there is a glaring lack in the preparation of teachers to leverage this cultural capital in ways that advance the academic enrichment of all students. Through the post-doctoral fellowship, Iyengar is supported in her research on topics related to Asian Indian children’s literacy and cultural practices. She hopes, through her presentations and publications, to illuminate the contributions and beauty of the Indic cultures for all.


Learn more about the Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies.


Learn more about Drs. Iyengar and Smith’s service project in India.




Photos courtesy of Dr. Kalpana Iyengar





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