October 26, 2014

With Grants, Cornell Area Studies Fund Outreach Initiatives

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By DIVYANSHA SEHGAL

Two of Cornell’s language and area studies programs — the Southeast Asia Program and the South Asia Program — received highly competitive grants from the U.S. Department of Education earlier this month.

The programs also received renewed recognition as National Resource Centers and were awarded Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships, according to a University press release.

The NRC grant — which was awarded by the Department of Education to “establish” and “strengthen” international studies centers that serve as national resources — will be used by Cornell to aid in the internationalization of community colleges and teacher training programs in the United States, according to Thamora Fishel, associate director of the Southeast Asia Program.

Each FLAS fellowship includes an institutional payment, which covers tuition, and an allowance which covers travel and living expenses, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

These FLAS fellowships will fund both graduate and undergraduate students from both the South Asia and Southeast Asia programs each year of the grant’s four-year duration, according to Fishel and Prof. Anne Blackburn, South Asian and Buddhist studies.

The Southeast Asia Program received a total of $2,096,400 for the cycle 2014-18, according to Fishel. This amount includes both the NRC grant and FLAS fellowship.

Cornell’s South Asia Program, in collaboration with Syracuse University’s South Asia Center, received NRC grants and FLAS fellowships totaling $3,060,000 for the period of 2014-18, according to Blackburn, who is also director of the South Asia Program. Of this, $1,721,360 is allocated for the use of Cornell’s South Asia Program.

“The [U.S. Department of Education] wanted to see how institutions that have NRC money could collaborate and help internationalize community colleges, with the idea being that community colleges are where a lot of first-generation college students are ending up,” Fishel said.

To achieve this goal, Cornell’s Southeast Asia Program is partnering with local institutions Tompkins Cortland Community College, Onondaga Community College and Mohawk Valley Community College, Fishel said.

According to Melina Draper, Southeast Asia Program outreach coordinator, the grants will be used to fund outreach activities that are “dedicated to promote Southeast Asian awareness,” among them teacher training and the maintenance of a lending library.

“We have been receiving these grants for more than 50 years now, and [they] have become a part of how we function,” she said.

Blackburn said this year’s application process for the grant was “unique” in that it required much “creativity and collaboration” between the Cornell South Asian Programs and the Syracuse University South Asia Center.

“This cycle focused heavily on the outreach programs involving teacher training and community college … working out the details of the proposal was a creative process,” Blackburn said.

Prof. Kaja McGowan, art history, said these grants will make “all the difference” to the program in the years ahead, particularly in areas the program “greatly prizes” such as the teaching of underrepresented Southeast Asian languages.

“[The grants] make possible the bolstering of past initiatives and the development of a host of new possibilities,” said McGowan, who is also director of the Southeast Asia program. “First is the multi-faceted Burma and Myanmar initiative, which promises to unfold on a host of levels in the years ahead. This will expand possibilities for research to a number of Cornell faculty with interest in Burma.”

Blackburn said that although these grants will help South Asia Program in the coming years, the program hopes to find more permanent sources of aid.

“The grant will … help to launch our Tamil Studies Initiative, which will benefit undergraduate and graduate students on campus,” she said. “A central long-term goal of the South Asia Program is to support Cornell as it finds ways to stabilize financial support for international studies including the study of South Asia, reducing dependency on external grant awards.”

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