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Grant supports new department

By : Eric Coker

John Chaffee, chair of the new Department of Asian and Asian American Studies, teaches a course Aug. 26 in the Lecture Hall.

Asian and Asian American Studies will look to continue the gains it has made over the past decade, thanks to a new grant from The Freeman Foundation.

AAAS, which became a department this fall, received approval for the grant in early August. The grant is for a maximum of $150,000 per year for two years, with the University guaranteeing a third year at the year-two level, said John Chaffee, professor of history and chair of the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies.

A $1.75 million grant from the Freeman Foundation in 2001 enabled AAAS to become a major.

“That was enormously beneficial to us,” Chaffee said. “It helped to cement the growth of the major, create the department and bring us to where we are now.”

The initial grant also was used to hire faculty, a librarian and to develop curriculum.

“One of the things we did, and I think we were unique in this, was to put the bulk of the money into things that would carry on,” Chaffee said.

That philosophy has carried over to the new grant. Uses will include:

  • An outreach position to promote and develop Asian studies in the community.

This person will work on projects ranging from assisting the Vietnamese community to partnering with local school districts offering Chinese classes. The position, which Chaffee hopes to have filled in January, also will be responsible for creating partnerships between different parts of the University and different areas of Asia.

“There’s a lot of potential in the community,” Chaffee said. “There’s a lot of interest in Asia. I think we’re well placed to make effective use of this person.”

  • One new faculty position. Chaffee said the emphasis will be on pre-modern Japanese literature, particularly someone with expertise in performing arts. Recruitment for the position will take place this school year.
  • Expanded language offerings. Hindi begins this year; Vietnamese is planned to start in fall 2009.
  • A scholarship program for students studying in Asia.

Using the new grant in areas such as outreach could help the University’s bid to become a National Resource Center in Asian studies. An application will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in fall 2009, Chaffee said.

AAAS began as an East Asian Studies program in the mid-1980s. It was expanded to its current name in 1991 to accommodate student demand, Chaffee said. The department now has about 40 majors.

The Vermont-based Freeman Foundation donates about $50 million a year to U.S. institutions to expand the teaching and development of Asian studies.

“It’s had a huge impact nationwide,” Chaffee said of the foundation’s efforts. “I think it was a matter of them being devoted to Asia and feeling like they could make a difference. We happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08