College of Education alumna researching hot topics in the field of education

December 18, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Tokyo native Saki Ikoma originally wanted to be a physicist. After earning her bachelor’s degree in physics from Aoyama Gakuin University, she enrolled in graduate school, but family circumstances led her to step away from her studies. Instead, Ikoma taught English and math to middle and high school students. Over the next eight years, Ikoma’s interactions with her students and observations of the school system would steer her career in a much different direction.

Saki Ikoma

Saki Ikoma earned her doctorate in educational theory and policy from Penn State.

IMAGE: Provided

“Since the school I taught in was a private tutorial school, teachers didn’t need a certificate to teach, and they could teach any subject as long as they hold themselves accountable,” Ikoma said. “This resulted in some challenges, so I decided I wanted to learn more about education theory.”

Ikoma left Japan and headed to Columbia University, where she earned a master’s degree in sociology and education. Her courses focused mostly on U.S. education, so she considered expanding her knowledge to include comparative and international education. Ikoma’s adviser recommended that she look at Penn State, specifically the work of Professor of Education Gerald LeTendre.

“His research comparing cultural and structural aspects of U.S. and Japanese education sounded really interesting,” Ikoma said. “So, I came to Penn State for my Ph.D. in educational theory and policy.”

While working toward her doctorate, Ikoma was offered an internship at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), one of the world’s largest behavioral and social science research and evaluation organizations.

“The internship not only gave me a sense of the AIR work environment, but it also taught me how to collaborate with colleagues in a real-world setting,” Ikoma said.

When she graduated from Penn State in 2016, Ikoma joined AIR full time as a researcher. Today, her work centers on data analyses involving U.S. and international large-scale surveys. Ikoma’s statistical expertise includes hierarchical linear modeling, structural equation modeling, social network analysis, and propensity score matching.

Ikoma said she appreciates having a certain degree of freedom to propose research topics related to her areas of expertise.

“My main research focus is teachers, and in one of the projects I lead, I believe that my work is helping the U.S. Department of Education conceptualize their framework related to teachers,” Ikoma said.

Ikoma lives in Washington, D.C.

Last Updated December 18, 2019