Literacy education expert to receive Emerging Scholar Award

contact: Jeanne Baron
| WMU News

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A young faculty member who already is becoming known internationally in the field of literacy studies will be honored by Western Michigan University as an emerging scholar during a campuswide awards ceremony this month.

Dr. Maria Selena O. Protacio, associate professor of special education and literacy studies, will receive the Emerging Scholar Award during WMU's Fall Convocation activities at 11 a.m. Friday, Sept. 14, in the Bernhard Center.

The event will feature WMU President Edward Montgomery's State of the University address as well as the presentation of four other sets of annual campuswide awards: the Distinguished Faculty Scholar, Distinguished Teaching, Distinguished Service and Annual Make a Difference awards. It is part of daylong convocation activities that start at 8:30 a.m.

Emerging Scholar Award

Launched in 2006, the Emerging Scholar Award program acknowledges the accomplishments of WMU faculty members who are among the rising stars in U.S. higher education. It is designed to celebrate the contributions of faculty who are in the first decade of their careers at WMU and who, by virtue of their contributions to scholarship or creative activity, have achieved national recognition and demonstrated outstanding promise to achieve renown in their continuing work.

Far-reaching research

Headshot, Dr. Maria Selena O. Protacio.

Dr. Maria Selena O. Protacio

A WMU faculty member since 2012, Protacio focuses her investigations on the literacy motivation and engagement of English learners. Her publications related to that rarely researched area are filling an important gap in the literacy literature. She also has conducted research on the parental and family engagement of immigrant families in the United States.

 A key aim for Protacio is to reach teachers, given that they are the ones most likely to impact the lives of English learners. As one nominator put it, she has been doing "far-reaching, impactful work in literacy," and "her dedication to improved literacy outcomes for English language learners and immigrant families is unmatched."

Protacio has been making significant contributions to her field most recently as the principal investigator for a $2.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education awarded in 2017. The project is providing professional development to 160 in-service and 44 pre-service teachers to better prepare them to address the needs of English learners, ensuring that Protacio's reach will be felt for many years to come.

"This grant will not only substantially increase the number of ESL teachers in Michigan," a WMU administrator wrote in nominating her, "but also will contribute to the literature on effective teacher education and professional development for teachers of English learners."

Other nominators noted that, through her high-quality research and biliterate, bilingual background, Protacio generates excitement about her field in established as well as budding teachers.

"As a teacher-educator, I know of no more impactful an accomplishment than to foster a sustained interest in research and professional inquiry among K-12 teachers," a colleague at one university wrote. "In our field, this has the greatest potential to impact the ways that teaching and learning occur. It has the greatest potential to substantively expand the life options of young people who need and deserve the best that we can offer."

Additional activities

Those nominating Protacio also praised her as a mentor who has played an instrumental role in the career development of both her students and colleagues around the country as well as a leader who has worked tirelessly to advance the literacy field through her service work on and off the WMU campus.

At WMU, Protacio is an advisor for the Master of Arts in teaching English to speakers of other languages and has chaired three planning committees related to ESL. In addition, she co-edits the Reading Horizons Journal, an international, peer-reviewed journal, and has been a reviewer for a variety of other academic journals and conferences. Protacio also has chaired the Southwest Michigan Reading Council Research Studies Committee, co-coordinated a National Reading Conference, and served on groups such as the Literacy Research Association's Ethnicity, Race and Multilingualism Committee and Michigan Department of Education's Committee Revising ESL Standards.

Protacio earned a Bachelor and Master of Arts from the University of the Philippines-Diliman in 2001 and 2004, respectively; a Master of Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2007; and a doctoral degree from Michigan State University in 2013. Prior to earning her graduate degrees, she worked as an English teacher in the Philippines, which is her native country.

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