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The Student Engaged Participatory Action Research Center (SEPARC) is a group of participatory action researchers and research projects housed within the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Participatory Action Research (PAR) is a partnership approach to action research that emphasizes participation from members of the community most affected by the research phenomenon through authentic collaboration and shared decision-making to answer questions that are most important to them and to use what they have learned to generate actionable change. SEPARC partners with historically marginalized or minoritized student groups in higher education settings to investigate the educational issues and experiences important to them through critical race, decolonial, and feminist lens. Our largest project to date is Our HMoob American College Paj Ntaub which examines the college experiences of HMoob American students in Wisconsin. We also provide workshops to teach other researchers how to incorporate participatory approaches in their work, host social justice education events, and facilitate public presentations and webinars of PAR scholarship. 


Matthew Wolfgram, Ph.D.

Matthew Wolfgram, Ph.D., is an anthropologist of education and education researcher at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. His research employs ethnography, participatory action research, and other qualitative research methods to study factors that impact the educational experiences of minoritized college students. His recent publications are featured in New Directions for Higher Education, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Harvard Education Review, Teachers College Record, AERA Open, Journal of Education and Work, Action Research, and Anthropology & Education Quarterly.

Matthew Wolfgram, PhD

Bailey B. Smolarek, Ph.D.

Bailey B. Smolarek (she/her) holds a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction and is a Researcher at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and Teaching Faculty in the Department of Education Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She uses critical, decolonial, and feminist theories to explore the experiences of historically marginalized and/or excluded populations. Prior to receiving her PhD, Bailey taught secondary and postsecondary Spanish and English as a Second Language courses in the U.S. and abroad.

Bailey B. Smolarek, PhD

Mai Neng Vang

Mai Neng Vang (she/nws/they) is a doctoral candidate in the Educational Policy Studies program at UW-Madison with a broad research interest in the educational experiences of minoritized students. More specifically, she explores how students and young people organize and respond to inequities and advocate for transformative changes. Mai Neng is currently a researcher with the HMoob American College Paj Ntaub participatory action research team through the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.

Mai Neng Vang

Chundou Her

Chundou Her (they/them/theirs) is a graduate student in Curriculum & Instruction at UW-Madison. Their research interest sits at the intersection of storytelling, youth activism, art, transformative justice, and participatory methods. Through their work, Chundou’s greater goal is to reimagine and redistribute who is considered a producer of precious knowledge. Additionally, Chundou hopes to bear witness to people’s educational stories and work towards collective healing and community growth.

Chundou Her

Ying Xiong

Ying Yang Youa Xiong (she/hers/nws) is a research intern at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and has been working with The HMoob American College Paj Ntaub team since Fall of 2019. Ying is a graduate in the Applied Masters in Human Ecology program at UW-Madison. Her work focuses on community outreach and engagement with culturally and linguistically diverse communities. She is also a small business owner of Mommy Maiv Gifts LLC where she spends her free time hand-making HMoob-inspired jewelry and sourcing natural minerals.

Ying Xiong

Chee Meng Xiong

Chee Meng Xiong (he/him/his) holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Education Studies with a certificate in Asian American studies (HMoob Studies emphasis) from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He currently works as a Research Intern for the HMoob American College Paj Ntaub team through the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. Chee hopes that through the work of the research team that it can further help advocate for students from historically marginalized communities.

Chee Meng Xiong

Madison Xiong

Madison Xiong (she/her) is an undergraduate student studying Global Health, Biology, and Public Policy at UW-Madison. Her goal is to improve public health through research, medicine, and community advocacy and engagement. Madison’s position on the Paj Ntaub Research Team allows her to critically analyze and address disparities in education as a social determinant of health. Alongside her work at WCER, Madison is a climate health policy researcher at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. Her combined professional experiences empowers her to use policy as a tool to promote health and equity in marginalized communities.

Madison Xiong

Mai Chong Yang

Mai Chong Yang (she/her/nws) holds a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Anthropology with a Hmong Studies Certificate from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. She is currently a member of the Paj Ntaub participatory research team through the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. Mai Chong hopes this project will further advocate for marginalized communities throughout the whole UW System. She is also the project coordinator for the Cia Siab (Hope) WI traveling exhibit that showcases the experiences of historical trauma captured through objects and oral stories from the Hmong community.

Mai Chong Yang


Ariana Thao

Ariana Thao is a J.D. candidate at the DePaul University College of Law. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 2020 with a degree in Political Science, and Sociology, and a certificate in Asian American Studies with a Hmong-American Emphasis. She formerly served as a diversity and inclusion specialist for the University of Wisconsin – Madison Division of Extension where she specialized in supporting projects focused on the HMoob communities of Wisconsin. During her time there, she co-authored a study focused on how public-serving institutions could better support HMoob communities linguistically and in culturally responsive practices.

Ariana Thao, Alumni

Kia Vang

Kia Vang graduated from the University of Wisconsin Madison in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Creative Writing. After graduating, she published a book called, The Home We Built on 46th ST and served two years in her community with City Year Milwaukee. Currently, she is a graduate student at Marquette University with the Trinity Fellows Program and is the Education Coordinator for Milwaukee Riverkeeper.  

Kia Vang, Alumni

Lena Lee

Lena Lee graduated from UW-Madison with a BA in Psychology and a certificate in Asian American Studies with a HMoob American Studies Emphasis. She is currently the Office Manager & Event Coordinator at the Office of Undergraduate Advising (OUA). Prior to OUA, she was a research intern on the “Our HMoob American College Paj Ntaub” team at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) and continues to assist the team in ways that she can. Lena is also a graduate student at the School of Education pursuing a Master’s in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, with a focus on Student Affairs in Higher Education. She is a proud PEOPLE Program alum and hopes to work with marginalized groups in higher education.

Lena Lee, Alumni

Lisa Iab Yaj

Lisa Iab Yaj (she/they/nws) was a student researcher with the College Paj Ntaub research team from 2018 to 2022. She is currently in youth work as a lead teacher and dabbling in the visual art realm. She has taken many lessons from the research such as how to support HMoob students and other students of color as they survive the education system. On top of that, the stories of comradery and defiance she learned through the voices of Hmong students on campus influences the stories that shape the art she creates. She is so excited to see the many diverse stories and talents that continue to authentically mold the project.

Lisa Yang, Alumni

Myxee Thao

Myxee Thao earned an undergraduate degree from UW-Madison and a Master’s degree from UW-La Crosse. Currently, she works as a TRIO educator supporting first-generation, low-income, and BIPOC students pursuing higher education. Myxee continues to labor with love in education as a result of her ongoing evolution as an activist and life-long learner.

Myxee Thao, Alumni

Odyssey Xiong

Odyssey Xiong graduated from UW-Madison in the summer of 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and an Asian American Studies certificate. He is currently a financial aid counselor with Cardinal Stritch University and hopes to pursue a career in voice acting.

Odyssey Xiong, Alumni

Pa Kou Xiong

Pa Kou Xiong (she/her/hers) is an alumna of the Paj Ntaub research team at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. She graduated from UW-Madison with a B.S. in Human Development and Family Studies with a Psychology emphasis. Pa Kou is currently a second year graduate student and intern at Antioch University in Los Angeles, CA, pursuing a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology towards MFT and PCC licensure. Pa Kou is also a Mental Health Targeted Case Manager at Vail Place in Minnesota. 

Pa Kou Xiong, Alumni

Pangzoo Lee

Pangzoo Lee graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in August of 2019 with a Bachelor of Business in Administration – Marketing. After graduation, she worked as a Marketing Assistant at Lactalis for a year. Now, she is working in admissions at the Northcentral Technical College as a Student Services & Enrollment Assistant.

Pangzoo Lee, Alumni

Payeng Moua

Payeng Moua is a UW-Madison alumna with a B.S in HPHE and a certificate in Asian American Studies with a HMoob American Studies Emphasis. She worked to provide educational brave and safe spaces through HMoob American Studies Committee (HMASC), Niam Laus Niam Hluas Sxsterhood (NLNH), and HMoob Student Dinner UW-Madison. She’s currently a Business Analyst for CoVantage Credit Union, working to build inclusion and charitable giving to the community.

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