Fa Zhang: SOE a “perfect fit” for her research interests

Doctoral student advises others to get involved in SOE’s research labs

Headshot of Fa Zhang, an international student at the VCU School of Education.
Fa Zhang, a doctoral student in the School of Education. (Courtesy Photo)

Fa Zhang is an international student in the VCU School of Education’s Ph.D. in Education, Concentration in Educational Psychology program. Originally from Harbin City, China, she earned her undergraduate degree in finance at Jilin University. Following that, she earned a  master’s degree in teaching from Pepperdine University in 2016 and is pursuing a second masters in statistics from VCU. Her research interests focus on students’ motivation and learning outcomes as well as advanced quantitative methodologies.

What drew you to the field of education?

I was attracted to the education field during my master’s study, during the language acquisition course where I learned educational learning theories and different teaching strategies.

Is there anyone who inspired you to pursue study in this field?

I was inspired by “Learning and Cognition: the Design of the Mind,” a book used in my language acquisition course, written by Dr. Michael E. Martinez. Once I was in the program, I was also inspired by SOE professors who taught or guided me to pursue study in this field. In particular, Dr. Maike Philipsen and Dr. Kurt Stemhagen inspired me from a theorist perspective – the angles that I could utilize to view the world and the standards that I should follow to pursue study in education.


I like the people here. They’re really nice and supportive. The focus on cognition, motivation and self-regulation in the Ed Psych program also makes it the perfect fit for my research interests and goals. The school also emphasizes diversity and inclusion.

What has impressed you most about your program so far?

I’m impressed by the opportunities to involve all students in the Ed Psych program. I’m also impressed by how Dr. Christine Bae, Dr. Sharon Zumbrunn and Dr. Alison Koenka train their students with a growth mindset in learning and research. It’s rewarding to make progress as we move forward under the faculty’s guidance.

What would be your dream job?

An educational researcher who focuses on secondary students’ learning motivation and outcomes, over grades and cross-culturally. I hope to work at a university in China in the future and conduct more comparative research.

What do you do to relax and have fun outside of school?

I like to go to yoga classes and enjoy music festivals with friends. : )

Any tips for students who are considering study in your program at VCU SOE?

It’s good to align a clear research direction with your future plans, because you could build your profile with specific assignments and research activities. Get involved in the various Ed Psych labs here; it’s good for your research. You will gain more experience and get to know what the current and potential projects are. Lastly, be positive all the time!