Award-winning professor’s research focuses on social justice, teaching practices

Abington education faculty

Boni Wozolek, assistant professor of elementary and early childhood education at Penn State Abington.

Credit: Pam Brobst

ABINGTON, Pa. — Boni Wozolek, assistant professor of elementary and early childhood education at Penn State Abington, has been recognized by several national and international professional organizations, supporting her reputation as an emerging expert in her field.

According to Wozolek, her work considers questions of social justice and teaching practices that focus on the examination of race, sexual orientations, and gender identities across schools and communities.  

Wozolek’s honors include: 

  • The Early Career Award from the Critical Issues in Curriculum and Cultural Studies special interest group of the American Educational Research Association. 

  • Taylor & Francis Educational Studies award for Best Paper of the Year for the article Hidden Curriculum of Violence: Affect, Power, and Policing the Body. Educational Studies is a top-tier journal in the field, and the award is one of the most recognized educational foundations awards given to scholars. 

  • Her book, "Assemblages of Violence in Education: Everyday Trajectories of Oppression," was the recipient of the 2021 Critics Choice Book Award from the American Educational Studies Association. 

Wozelek also is the editor of a soon-to-be-released book titled "Black Lives Matter in U.S. Schools." According to Wozolek, the content was sparked by the 2015 murders of nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., by a white supremacist. As a member of the American Educational Research Association Division B, she was asked to write a response to the shootings. Wozolek wanted to be inclusive of as many voices and perspectives as possible, and as a result, a special issue of a journal was published by the association. The book will expand on the journal content. 

“I really wanted a book response to the socio-political events in our country. This book is one of first to focus on how Black Lives Matter informs curriculum in schools. We need to ask, ‘How does it look if we foregrounded race differently in schools?‘ ” she said. The authors in the book include the daughter of a Black Panther and a former student of Wozolek’s. 

“What I love about the book is that it has different perspectives. It’s not a traditional academic text. Those sorts of pieces are interspersed with traditional pieces,” Wozolek said.   

Wozolek has another book currently under review, about a sonic ethnographic study on black and biracial students in a small-town white space. As part of the study, said Wozolke, the students walked around with recorders for two years. The book confronts questions such as what does it mean for the students to negotiate their identities and to honor their Blackness and Brownness. 

“I was really looking at community and how they build it. When the book is published, readers will be able to scan the sound files and listen to the interviews,” she said. 

Wozolek has two more edited book projects in the works, including one tentatively titled "Letters to the Field," which will offer advice to graduate students and new faculty from senior scholars. In addition, she serves as social justice editor for "Emancipating education: Considerations of Deferred Dreams and Visions for Change," helping to make sure the content is equitable and balanced in terms of voices.  

We need to ask, ‘How does it look if we foregrounded race differently in schools?‘

—Boni Wozolek , assistant professor of elementary and early childhood education

Wozolek’s personal experience draws her to this work. She identifies as a queer woman of color with a disability, having grown up in an overwhelmingly white place where her parents were the only biracial couple in town.  

“I was exposed to plenty of difficult situations. The confluence of those identities has pushed me into really wanting to think more deeply. How do we interrupt socio-cultural and political values that allow these norms to continue to happen?” she said. 

Wozolek completed her doctorate at Kent State University and chose to teach at Abington, the most diverse Penn State campus, in part due to its student population of over 3,000, she said.

“Something about working with a majority minority campus and its intimacy. The relationships with students get lost at larger institutions and also with colleagues. Abington has a lot to offer,” she said. 

Wozolek, who arrived at Abington in 2019, works closely with her students including helping them find publishers for their research. Student Samantha Antell received credit as a co-author with Wozolek on the article "Curricula of oppressions: queering elementary school norms and values," which appeared in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education. 

“Samantha worked through the edits with me," said Wozolek. "She did not buckle or break under that pressure. Students put a different type of trust in you. We build these relationships in the classroom." 

As a curriculum scholar, Wozolek encourages her students and others in the field to start looking at the larger picture.

"We have to do better work with curriculum in schools. We don’t think about communities around schools. There has to be a bigger conversation about schools and communities and how we interact together," she said.

About Penn State Abington 

Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With about 3,700 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 23 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer honors program, NCAA Division III athletics and more.