Okhee Lee grew up in the countryside of South Korea. As the youngest of seven children, she was a good daughter who did well in school. After completing her master’s degree in education, she wanted to do more.
But her father told her she had two choices as a woman: become a wife or go to work and be an “old maid.”
Okhee created a third choice: She applied and was accepted to a Ph.D. program to study education in the United States.
When she decided to pursue her doctorate at Michigan State University, she didn’t realize she was joining the team that would become known for setting a new national research agenda on teaching. After more than 30 years in the education field, she has become the leading education scholar committed to the reform of K-12 science teaching and learning, in particular for children who are learning English as an additional language.
At New York University, where Okhee is a professor at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, her research areas include science education, language and culture, and teacher education. She leads collaborative research between NYU and Stanford University to develop instructional materials aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) to promote science learning and language learning of elementary students, including English learners. Before joining NYU’s Steinhardt, Okhee was a professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of Miami’s School of Education.
In recently published research, Okhee looks at STEM education and the barriers that English learners in schools face because traditional coursework does not take into consideration both language learning opportunities and demands in academic content. She identifies three components for aligning English language proficiency standards with content standards across English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies and highlights opportunities for substantive collaboration.
Okhee is recognized for her work by her peers. In 2019, the American Educational Research Association honored her with the Division K Innovations in Research on Equity and Social Justice in Teacher Education Award. The same year, she received the inaugural Distinguished Researcher Award from the Korean-American Educational Researchers Association.
She holds leadership roles at the American Educational Research Association, Center for Applied Linguistics, National Science Foundation, New York State Education Department, and New York State Boards of Cooperative Education Services.