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CCU to establish Intercultural Language Resource Center and offer new area studies programs

September 23, 2020
Gary Schmidt is a professor of German and chair of the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies.

The Coastal Carolina University Thomas W. and Robin W. Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts is getting ready to develop more, and better prepared, global citizens.

A CCU professor of German has earned a prestigious grant to establish an interdisciplinary center focused on allowing students to enhance and apply their acquired foreign language to practical, real-world matters. Even better, that facility will become the centerpiece of a renewed collegewide emphasis on regional global studies.

Gary Schmidt, professor and chair of the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies within the Edwards College, has been awarded a two-year U.S. Department of Education Title VI A Grant for Foreign Language/Area Studies worth $181,637 to support the development of an Intercultural Language Resource Center (ILRC). Schmidt worked with an interdisciplinary team of faculty from fields including politics, intelligence and national security studies, and English to develop the project.

For Schmidt, creation of the ILRC is realization of a long-term goal to strengthen interdisciplinary ties among departments and programs.

“My vision for the center has been guided by a personal priority: to create more connections for studying language and culture across the disciplines,” said Schmidt. “We need to foster ways for students to actively use their language knowledge in research questions or active engagement in another discipline.”

The ILRC will offer a variety of services for student needs, including scholarly and academic resources; information on language-related scholarships and research opportunities; language proficiency testing; information and scholarships for study abroad opportunities; tutoring for students enrolled in current language courses; and specialized guidance and support for students working on language-based projects in a variety of fields.

“It will be a place where we’ll have guest speakers, film screenings and discussions, readings, reading groups, and language group meetings. We’ll have involvement from faculty and students from other disciplines,” said Schmidt.

Joseph Fitsanakis, an associate professor of intelligence and national security studies in the Department of Politics, served on the grant-writing project team. He said the ILRC’s services will allow his students to apply their language skills to the research they do in the field of intelligence and national security studies.

“When you have a student who is working on the current political environment in Mexico, for example, there’s absolutely no reason why they should be reading the news about Mexico in an American publication,” Fitsanakis said. “Or, if a student is working on the situation on water politics in Egypt, there’s no reason the student shouldn’t be reading the Arabic sources. If the student is learning Arabic, they can go to the center and find out, first, what sources are available, but also, how to interpret the news and how to understand the news.”

Fitsanakis said this component of students’ learning will make them more prepared and competitive in the job market.

“It will revolutionize the ability of our students to do what we train them to do, which is to be very informed on world developments every moment of the day – to be aware of what’s happening and how it affects American national security.”

Claudia Bornholdt, dean of the Edwards College, said the ILRC will facilitate student application of the foreign language component required of all programs within the college.

“The center will help build bridges for students across the disciplines to meaningfully apply their language learning to their discipline and their future careers,” said Bornholdt.

The goals of the grant, which will become the missions of the center, are twofold.

“The first goal is to increase the number of students doing area studies with a language component, so they’re doing language/culture study across disciplines,” said Schmidt. “The second is to increase substantially the number of students who have a certain level of proficiency in a foreign language, especially what’s considered a ‘critical’ language, including Chinese, Russian, and Arabic.”

The grant dovetails with a reorganization and expansion of regional area studies programs within the Edwards College. The former Global Studies program, which was offered as a minor, has been divided into specific geographical locations and housed as area studies within the Edwards College dean’s office. Beginning in Fall 2020, four individual minor programs are being offered: Africa/African Diaspora studies, Asian studies, European studies, and Middle Eastern studies. Caribbean/Latin American studies has been approved and will begin in Fall 2021; Russian/Eurasian studies is in the planning stages; and additional area studies minors are expected to be developed in the next several semesters.

The defining factor of the new area studies program, said Richard Aidoo, professor in the Department of Politics and former Edwards College associate dean of global initiatives, is a combined emphasis on language, culture, and experiential learning.

“As we crafted the organization of the program, we wanted to make sure that all the regional areas have heavy doses of language courses in them, as well as research, internships, and study abroad opportunities,” said Aidoo. “This approach will allow students to have not only exposure to the language but the capacity to collect cultural aspects of that particular region through hands-on experiences.”

In addition to study abroad offerings in each of the regional areas, many students will have the opportunity to conduct scholarly research side-by-side with faculty members.

“For example, everything I do in my scholarship is about sub-Saharan Africa, so I travel there to do research,” said Aidoo. “To be able to incorporate some of my research into the minor and allow students to access what I do, help me, and do hands-on work with their study of Africa is going to be a very good part of their curriculum.”

The reorganization of the area studies program and establishment of the center are a serendipitous coincidence that benefits both developments.

Aidoo said establishment of the ILRC is simultaneously an achievement for the university and the beginning of CCU’s new frontier in international area studies.

“We have been waiting for something like this for a very long time,” said Aidoo. “Part of the traits students need to be efficient global citizens today is to develop their language skills. Ease of language is critical in order to work within a world that is changing so fast, and Coastal having a center like this equips students to be able to use those languages not just in the classroom but in any cultural context.”