Hearing about just the territory covered by the work of Associate Professor Mian Wang – from tri-counties California to Beijing, China – is enough to make one realize why the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) recently presented him with its Early Career Award. Wang, who has been part of the Special Education, Disability, and Risk Studies (SPEDR) emphasis in the Gevirtz School’s Department of Education since 2007, is currently the lynchpin of collaborations far and near as he helps bridge countries, cultures, research, and practice.
Closest to home, Wang is undertaking an evaluation project funded by the Weingart Foundation to assess effectiveness of the Tri-counties Regional Center programs and service impact on individual and family outcomes of individuals with developmental disabilities. Wang also is helping Driffill Elementary School in Oxnard plan and implement a PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) program. PBIS develops school-wide systems that support educators and staff to teach and promote positive, appropriate behavior for all students. By reducing behavioral problems, PBIS creates and maintains safe learning environments where teachers can teach and students can learn. “It’s not just a model that deals with kids with problems,” Wang explains, “but it facilitates a positive school culture.” Having helped implement PBIS in urban middle schools in Kansas City, Wang has seen firsthand that the program “can really allow for schools to focus on academic improvement. A lot of data shows that PBIS has been very successful even where the situation is very challenging.”
A different sort of challenge awaits Wang as he and his SPEDR colleagues professors Michael Gerber and George Singer establish the Pacific Rim Research Consortium on Education, Disabilities, and Developmental Risk. Funded by the UC Pacific Rim Grant, the consortium has a goal to help the over 400 million people with disabilities in the Pacific Rim. “There’s a great potential for building an international center with UCSB as the hub,” Wang says. “It will be a collaboration on several fronts, as we exchange scholars, exchange students, and collaborate on research projects.”
UC Santa Barbara currently is the home of the UC-wide Center for Research on Special Education, Disabilities, and Developmental Risk, and Wang and his colleagues have already cultivated relationships with other scholars in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the People’s Republic of China. Beyond that core, Wang sees the consortium growing to include people from Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. A spring 2010 planning meeting in Beijing is aimed to be “beneficial to both developed and developing countries,” Wang says. “We want to get a clear picture of where we stand, to know what research is cutting edge, but we want to be very open to all participants.” The three key topics for focus will be the dynamics of family involvement and support in education of children with disabilities; inclusion: policy and practice; and, the early identification of children with disabilities and response to instruction and intervention strategies.
“We also envision being trainers in developing countries,” Wang suggests as another eventual purpose for the Pacific Rim Consortium. “They’re desperate for experts to come and train their teachers. We will focus on research first, but we realize research must be tied to practice.”
In a similar nature, Wang is part of a different international research team with scholars form a dozen countries focusing on the topic Family Quality of Life (FQoL). As a new extension of the individual quality-of-life (QOL) framework that has been widely embraced in the field of disability to affect policy making, guide service delivery, and enhance outcomes of individuals with disabilities, family quality of life (FQoL) has been increasingly recognized as an important concept in the area of family supports for families of children with disabilities in the last two decades. Wang is a co-editor of a special journal issue to be published by the International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual Disabilities that will examine cross-cultural, cross-nation studies about FQoL. “My role is to oversee data management and data analysis in the project,” Wang says. “I’ve been playing a major role with lots of comparative analysis efforts and dissemination of the results – I’m a co-author of two articles in the special issue.”