Kathy Rim
Kathy Rim didn't see her history reflected in textbooks as a child, so she has set out to remedy that by contributing her research to American history texts. Kristen Harris / School of Social Sciences

As a child, political science graduate student Kathy Rim felt a disconnect between what she read in her American history textbooks and her own Korean-American culture and background. “We didn’t learn much about Asian American history,” she says.

Rim is working to fill that gap. At UC Irvine, she studies the political involvement of Asian Americans and is contributing to the ground-level research and scholarship behind new history books.

“Understanding the role that racial group consciousness plays in shaping political behavior will give us insight into new strategies for mobilizing racial minorities,” Rim says.

Asian Americans – constituting about 12 percent of California’s registered voters – have real potential to shake up the political landscape, she says. They’re increasingly active at the polls and are being elected to prominent positions.

Rim’s research indicates that these trends are likely to continue as second-generation Asian Americans identify less with their individual ethnicity and more with the immigrant community as a whole – a marked change from their parents’ generation.

“Kathy’s conclusions have practical implications for political organizers, and they’re theoretically important for our understanding of how identity forms and how it functions politically,” says Carole Uhlaner, a UCI political science associate professor who also studies the political participation of Asian Americans and other ethnic minorities.

Rim earned the UCI Alumni Association’s 2009 Lauds & Laurels Outstanding Graduate Student Award and was named the 2009-10 Fletcher Jones Foundation Fellow, which carries a $20,100 prize administered by UCI’s Graduate Division. She also has received a Best Paper Award from the American Political Science Association’s Asian Pacific American Caucus and many academic excellence awards from UCI’s School of Social Sciences.

Her findings have been published in the Asian American Policy Review, American Politics Research, Social Science Quarterly and Urban Affairs Review, and she has presented her work at several national political science conferences. In addition, Rim co-authored a chapter for the 2008 book Civic Hopes & Political Realities, which addresses the importance of and methods for engaging immigrant groups in U.S. civic life and politics.

“I’ve never seen Kathy’s level of successful scholarly productivity in a graduate student – never mind one in her sixth year of study,” says Mark Petracca, political science chair.

For Rim, who will get her doctorate in June, the opportunity to pursue research at UCI has been “an educational dream of a lifetime.”