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"Our greatest joy has been watching our students get excited about Asian languages, cultures, and the environment."






















































































"The LIASE program has been crucial in integrating the study of Japan across Illinois College’s science curriculum."




































































































"I was looking at environmental issues from a global perspective, seeing the issues around the world and how they connected."

Grant Spotlight: Luce Initiative on Asian Studies
and the Environment (LIASE)


In fall 2017, approximately 100 people gathered in St. Paul, MN for the Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment (LIASE) Conference. Representing 22 institutions and two college consortia who were awarded approximately $11M in grants over the five rounds of the LIASE competition, the participants, most of whom were faculty members, arrived eager to share their LIASE-supported experiences with one another.

First proposed in 2010, the multi-year LIASE initiative sought to tie the Asia Program’s mission of enhancing understanding of East and Southeast Asia and fostering exchange between Americans and their Asian colleagues with a pressing global concern—the relationship of human beings to the health of the environment. Environment and sustainable development served as a lens through which liberal arts colleges could raise the visibility of and strengthen ties to Asia. As Program Director Helena Kolenda explained, “Study of Asia remains housed primarily within the humanities” even with a growing “need for expertise on Asia in fields such as public health, engineering, urban planning, architecture, information technology, and environmental studies and science. LIASE was designed to expand Asia-related content across the curriculum and build bridges between the humanities, social sciences, physical and biological sciences, and policy and professional fields”—disciplines that are typically siloed from one another in academic settings.

With these objectives in mind, each participating institution developed its own strategies for inspiring interest in Asian studies and encouraging students and faculty to explore new fields of study. Many succeeded not only in establishing cross-geographic and cross-disciplinary ties, but also in engaging new audiences and creating opportunities for first-generation college students or scholars who had never traveled to Asia. The following narratives, excerpted from grantee profiles prepared for the conference represent a handful of the approaches explored through LIASE grants.

Diverse Approaches to LIASE


Centre College

Centre College has structured its LIASE program as a series of high-impact, scaffolded experiences in which undergraduates participate in a suite of courses and opportunities that, together, provide them with a rich understanding of Asian cultures as well as practical skills and expertise for further work in environmental studies. Centre’s offerings include a summer language institute (with instruction in Thai, Malay, and Chinese), a team-taught lab course dedicated to comparison of environmental issues in Kentucky and several Asian countries, three-week field study experiences in Asia, and internships at Asian partner institutions, in addition to cultural events and performances around campus.

"Our greatest joy has been watching our students get excited about Asian languages, cultures, and the environment. Students interested in the sciences are now immersed in Asian studies, and students once curious about Asia now show the same passion for environmental science and biology," said Kyle Anderson, LIASE program co-director and Professor of Chinese language and literature. “As Centre faculty, we designed our project to be as student-centered as possible. All its aspects were engineered to maximize educational impact. To date, 8 students have participated in an international internship or research experience, 3 faculty have conducted research projects in Japan, Indonesia and Thailand, 21 students have attended our immersion summer language institute, 27 students have completed the Asia & the Environment Lab, and over 300 individuals have had some larger exposure to the grant via campus-wide convocations and performances. Participating in these activities has had a profound impact on students and faculty. We continue to be amazed at how much these opportunities are shaping the educational and future career plans of our students."


Furman University

Furman University used its LIASE grant to spark new collaborations, not only between Furman and its Asian partner Yunnan Minzu University (YMU) in China but among Furman’s faculty as well. The program includes faculty development workshops, with participants from over a dozen different departments, that have resulted in several team-taught courses and public outreach events on China’s environmental issues.

A core component of Furman’s LIASE activity focuses on engaging first-year students. For the LIASE First Year China Experience (FCE), twelve incoming freshmen are selected for two weeks of travel study after completing a China-focused first-year writing course and a year of Chinese language instruction their freshman year. Principal investigator Kate Kaup, a professor in political science, noted that “several of the students who participated in the inaugural 2016 FCE program have already declared their Asian Studies or Earth and Environmental Studies majors though many reported having ‘no interest in China before getting that email about the program before freshman year.’ (Indeed, two of our participants had never been on an airplane.) For FCE students who continue studying Chinese or sustainability science, the grant covers an experiential three-week program in rural Yunnan following their sophomore year through our LIASE May Experience program.”

Furman also hosts faculty and students from YMU through its Summer Science Exposure Program (SSEP). Students and faculty from China work with Furman faculty to conduct fieldwork in the Greenville and Charleston areas and explore the history of economic development strategies’ impacts on the environment. “SSEP participants,” Kaup continued, “are involved in a variety of programs that introduce them to interdisciplinary lab groups, private-public partnerships, and government-higher-education cooperative programming.”


Illinois College

With its LIASE grant, Illinois College strengthened its existing 30-year relationship with Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan.

Professor Laura Corey, a biologist who leads the LIASE faculty team, said, “Before the LIASE Initiative began, most of our faculty collaborations and student exchanges with Japan had been based in the humanities and social sciences. The LIASE program has been crucial in integrating the study of Japan across Illinois College’s science curriculum.” The LIASE grant has allowed for expansion of this partnership and enhancement of existing courses. Students now encounter and learn about Japan through newly developed case studies, lab activities, and course modules, in addition to receiving instruction in Japanese language and culture if they choose to travel abroad. Students preparing to conduct research in Japan also have to learn specialized vocabulary and train with specific equipment so they are prepared for the scientific aspects of the projects they undertake at Ritsumeikan. Overall, LIASE support has facilitated the establishment and strengthening of “personal collaborations between Illinois College and Japanese institutions’ scientists and environmental scholars.”

Convening the LIASE Community

The fall gathering in St. Paul, MN (organized with conference co-host Associated Colleges of the Midwest) coincided with the conclusion of the first round of implementation grants and the start of the fifth round, allowing participants from all stages of grantmaking to benefit from one another’s discoveries. The conference was structured as a series of working sessions that provided opportunities for networking around common themes or the geographic focus of projects as well as in-depth conversations on specific issues and challenges. Plenary panels also showcased the diversity of roles and perspectives involved in the design and implementation of LIASE-sponsored programs.



While there was some discussion of specific research projects, faculty were most excited to learn about and exchange different approaches to program structure, student engagement, and curriculum development. Participants left the conference with a framework for doing interdisciplinary work with a focus on Asia, but one that could also be applied to other regions.

The spirit of collaboration and relevance of studying the environment and sustainable development in an Asian context were perfectly embodied in both the format and subject matter of the conference’s keynote performance: Golden Snail Opera: The More-than-Human Performance of Friendly Farming in Taiwan’s Lanyang Plain* by Professor of Anthropology Anna Tsing of the University of California, Santa Cruz and Aarhus University in Denmark. Enacted by Tsing and two scholars from the University of Minnesota, Professors Karen Ho and Juliana Hu Pegues, the multimedia narrative was both an academic study as well as a performance art piece. It tells the story of how rice farmers in Taiwan are learning to live with an invasive snail species, and through this tale, reiterates the importance of tackling large problems through cooperation and symbiosis. Tsing’s open-source project resonated strongly with attendees, many of whom expressed a desire for their students to put on the production.

One student presenter at the conference, Micah Sindelar of St. Olaf College, summed up his LIASE experience as a “spiritual awakening.” He continued, “It was like no other class I’d ever attended at St. Olaf. We were in the fields in the morning and night, and in between we were learning about Japanese sustainability history, environmental policy, and framework. Being so close to where I grew up in China, it really reminded me of my passion and why I got into Environmental Science, which was Beijing air quality. More than that, I was looking at environmental issues from a global perspective, seeing the issues around the world and how they connected.”

The goal of LIASE was to broaden interest and literacy at the intersection of Asia and the environment by challenging institutions to create opportunities for engagement with Asia within and beyond the classroom. The Foundation’s hope is that, in addition to expanding students’ horizons, heightening awareness of common environmental challenges affecting communities in Asia and the United States, and inspiring ideas for future careers, the initiative will continue to live on in the teaching, scholarship, and connections that have been established through LIASE.


*Tsai, Yen-Ling; Carbonell, Isabelle; Chevrier, Joelle; and Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. "Golden Snail Opera: The More-than-Human Performance of Friendly Farming on Taiwan’s Lanyang Plain." Cultural Anthropology 31, no. 4 (2016): 520–544. https://doi.org/10.14506/ca31.4.04


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Environment and sustainable development served as a lens through which liberal arts colleges could raise the visibility of and strengthen ties to Asia.






















































































"Several of the students who participated in the inaugural 2016 FCE program have already declared their Asian Studies or Earth and Environmental Studies majors though many reported having ‘no interest in China before getting that email about the program before freshman year.'"





































































Participants
left the conference with a framework for doing interdisciplinary work with a focus on Asia, but one that could also be applied to other regions.