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UK's Asia Center Benefits Students

by Jeff Worley

Bringing the University of Kentucky closer to Asia is the goal of the Asia Center, housed in Bradley Hall. The center, which began in January 2002 with start-up funds from the Freeman Foundation in Vermont, offers a yearly symposium on an Asian topic, a monthly colloquia, workshops for K-12 teachers, and an annual summer study tour to Asia, most recently to China. One result of all of these activities, says center director Kristin Stapleton, an associate professor of history at UK, is that students benefit.

"I attended the National Consortium on Teaching about Asia, and clearly my students have profitted," says Michelle Peck Williams, who teaches at Dunbar High School in Lexington. "In my world history classes, for example, one unit is 1914-present, and Asia plays a major role in that period. After attending the consortium, I have a lot stronger background in Asian history and politics." Williams teaches three humanities classes and three advance-placement world history classes, with a total of about 150 students.

"After last summer's trip, I was able to incorporate a unit titled 'Sociology of Agri-Food Systems' into my UK graduate seminar on China, which focuses on the country as a new global food power," says Larry Burmeister, an associate professor of sociology who specializes in East Asian agriculture. "In my international human rights course, I now have my students work on issues concerning Chinese labor conditions," says Karen Mingst, a professor of political science at UK who also went on last summer’s study tour.

UK students also benefit from a recent hire made through the Asia Center—Han Kuo-Huang, a specialist in East Asian and southeast Asian music. "I teach two classes—'Introduction to World Music (Asia and the Pacific),' with an enrollment of 40, and 'Gamelan,' which 10 students have signed up for," says Kuo-Huang, a professor of music at Northern Illinois University for over 30 years. A gamelan is an Indonesian orchestra made up essentially of percussion instruments.

"We're lucky to have someone of Kuo-Huang's caliber here," says Stapleton. "After we saw how well he worked with the teachers, and how much knowledge and enthusiasm he brought to one of our summer workshops, the Asia Center steering committee members all agreed we should see if he was interested in teaching here."

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