U.Va. To Support Study of Non-Western World At Virginia Community Colleges

February 25, 2013

The University of Virginia will launch a two-year project to boost global humanities in Virginia’s community colleges, thanks to a recently announced grant from the federal National Endowment for the Humanities.

The new program, “Understanding the Non-West: Strengthening Global Humanities at Virginia’s Community Colleges,” will allow faculty from five community colleges around the commonwealth to work closely with U.Va. to expand  knowledge and instruction, said Rachel Stauffer, outreach coordinator for the Asia Institute in U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences.

“Community colleges regularly offer courses in Spanish language, or European literature, but they may not have as many options when it comes to content focused on the non-Western world,” said Stauffer, who is administering the $359,769 grant. “This program gives us a chance to use our resources and expertise at U.Va. to help them offer courses focusing on non-European content from East Asia, South Asia, Russia and the Middle East. We are defining the non-Western world for this project based on the expertise of Asia Institute-affiliated faculty – otherwise we could define the concept of ‘non-Western’ in many different ways.”

The program will involve faculty from Blue Ridge Community College in Weyers Cave, Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville, Southwest Virginia Community College in Cedar Bluff, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Goochland and Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke.

Each institution will select five to seven faculty members, who will then choose a region or country to focus on in the program. Designated for non-Western humanities-based inquiry, the program will involve a wide variety of disciplines, including religious studies, history, anthropology, and languages and literatures, Stauffer said.

The faculty members will begin with a reading list of 10 to 15 works related to their selected regions. The first year of the program will focus on the theme of  “Ancient Heritages” – essentially the non-Western world until 1600 AD – and the second year’s content will focus on the theme of “Modern Societies”.

Participants will also receive funding to bring guest lecturers to their institutions, and will regularly correspond with each other and with U.Va. faculty members who will act as facilitators  and specialists for the community college faculty investigating their selected regions. In addition, the participants  will attend an intensive five-day symposium at U.Va. each August during the two-year program, beginning this year. The symposia will feature U.Va. faculty, as well as guest instructors from the University of Chicago, Hollins University and the City of Charlottesville Public Schools, one of a few public school systems in Central Virginia with a Chinese language program, Stauffer said.

The first symposium, focused on  the ancient world, will cover areas as diverse as the rise of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in Armenia, Russia and Georgia;  trade routes along the Silk Road;  the emergence and spread of non-Western religions such as Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Confucianism and Taoism; and the intersections of literature, history and faith in the regions of focus.

“One of the most important things the faculty members will do at the symposia is to establish a yearly plan for internationalization at their institution,” Stauffer said. “We’ll then work with them throughout the year on developing and implementing that plan.

“They’ll also get a chance to build professional networks, which is important, as many may not often get a chance to interact with other instructors in these fields.”

During the second year of the program, focusing on the world from 1600 to the present, the content will expand to include non-Western cinema and literature, while also drawing on NEH’s “Bridging Cultures” initiative, which “encourages exploration of the ways in which cultures from around the globe, as well as the myriad subcultures within America’s borders, have influenced American society.” The second symposium, which will also emphasize comparisons of the U.S. and the non-Western world, will include a nightly film screening.

In addition to offering professional development and training for faculty members, the program benefits their students, many of whom come from rural parts of the state where the public schools may not offer much in terms of non-Western  content, Stauffer said. Those students often go on to attend U.Va. or other four-year colleges and universities. Last semester, 316 transfer students from the Virginia community college system began classes at U.Va, said George Stovall, director of U.Va.’s Office of Institutional Assessment and Studies.

Each participating institution will also receive $10,000 per year to implement its own internationalization goals, Stauffer said.

“Essentially a third of this funding will go straight to the schools, and they can decide how best to use it to meet their needs for increasing global humanities offerings at their respective institutions ,” she said.

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