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Center for Southeast Asian Studies earns $2 million in federal grants

October 28, 2014

GamelanThe U.S. Department of Education has awarded NIU’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) two Title VI grants totaling $2 million to continue promoting the study and research of Southeast Asian languages and cultures over the next four years.

This is the fifth time CSEAS has received such funding since its designation as a National Resource Center (NRC) for Southeast Asian Studies in 1997.

“We are the only undergraduate National Resource Center for Southeast Asian Studies. The other centers nationwide cater exclusively to graduate students” said CSEAS Director Judy Ledgerwood. “Workshops, conferences, curriculum development and outreach all depend on this funding.”

Federal grant monies also support the center’s Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships. These fellowships, which provide monthly stipends and tuition-fee waivers, are awarded competitively to NIU graduate and undergraduate students studying Southeast Asian languages. This year, the center is awarding nine FLAS fellowships for graduate students and four fellowships for undergraduate students.

NIU offers on-campus instruction in five Southeast Asian languages – Burmese, Indonesian, Khmer, Tagalog and Thai – and off-campus instruction in Vietnamese through a distance-learning exchange with the University of Wisconsin-Madison. NIU is one of three universities in the nation to offer Burmese, Ledgerwood said.

“Language instruction is one of our top priorities,” she said. “The program is designed to ensure that more people learn to speak these less commonly taught languages.”

Judy Ledgerwood

Judy Ledgerwood

With the new Title VI funding, the center plans to expand its language instruction in partnering with four Illinois community colleges – Waubonsee Community College, Elgin Community College, Harper College and Triton College.

“We have funding to provide transportation for faculty and students to our campus, training programs for community college faculty and distance-language courses so students can come to NIU with their language requirement satisfied,” Ledgerwood said.

The center hosts an online language training website, SEAsite, which supplements classroom instruction with exercises in vocabulary, grammar and listening comprehension.

“Those tools have been in existence since 1997,” Ledgerwood said. “The new grant money will allow us to take the SEAsite and make it accessible via mobile devices. Migrating into new technology is important.”

The center’s language offerings are what attracted Cecelie Keys, a senior English major.

“I have always been interested in learning languages,” said Keys, who has studied Chinese and Japanese and is currently taking Thai. “I would like to use my knowledge of different languages to do cross-cultural research in Southeast Asian studies.”

Keys, a Joliet native pursuing minors in Japanese and Southeast Asian Studies, is also a FLAS fellow. The fellowship does more than just fund her education.

“The fellowship allows me to continue to focus on strengthening my Thai language studies,” she said.

The center’s spring program for high school students from the region – the Southeast Asia Youth Leadership Program (SEAYLP) – is awaiting final approval of a $490,000 grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Ledgerwood said.

CSEASPreparations, however, are already under way for the center to host 60 Southeast Asian high school students for three weeks.

This will be the eighth time NIU has hosted the program. It engages students in courses and workshops on leadership, entrepreneurship, team-building, cultural diversity, environmental sustainability, economic growth and supporting vulnerable groups. The program concludes with a three-day study tour of the nation’s capital.

Last May, NIU established a fellowship program for SEAYLP alumni, providing a tuition waiver for former SEAYLP students to attend NIU. Two SEAYLP alumni began studies at NIU in August.

The combination of academic instruction, research and outreach has earned the center a national and international reputation for its faculty scholarship, research resources and language and area studies strength. “The Center for Southeast Asian Studies is one of the top programs in the United States,” said Ledgerwood, an anthropologist and Cambodia specialist.

An interdisciplinary center founded in 1963, CSEAS is affiliated with more than 13 departments on campus and includes 27 faculty associates on its center council. It offers an undergraduate minor and a graduate certificate in Southeast Asian studies.

NIU has the fifth largest Southeast Asian library collection in the United States, with 121,721 cataloged volumes of which 54 percent are in the vernacular languages of Southeast Asia. The Center for Burma Studies has its own art collection, and the university’s Anthropology Museum has large collections of cultural items from Southeast Asia.