$400,000 Luce Grant puts the Spotlight on Southeast Asian Studies and the Environment

April 7, 2015

Student research abroad, new language classes, faculty grants, and an
annual symposium will build scholarly ties across the Pacific


TACOMA, Wash.
– University of Puget Sound is launching a major initiative to highlight Southeast Asian studies—on its own campus and across the state—with the help of a $400,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, through the Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment (LIASE).

The national liberal arts college, known for its distinctive strength in Asian Studies and close relationships with the Pacific Rim, is enhancing its Southeast Asian ties with innovative programs focused on the environment and sustainable development. These are expected to attract students from across the country who are interested in studies and careers involving America’s transpacific neighbors. The new LIASE program includes:

  • Southeast Asian field schools—intensive student learning abroad, conducted with Asian partners and involving a full semester of language and culture, plus three weeks of summer overseas research
  • Phased introduction of new Asian language courses—in Thai, Indonesian, and Malay—which currently are rarely taught as full-credit courses in Washington state
  • Grants for faculty members to explore and develop future Southeast Asian field schools or enhancements to the curriculum
  • An annual Southeast Asia Symposium that will draw international speakers and scholars from around the state, and that will be a resource center for Pacific Northwest partner colleges

Learning and teaching in the LIASE program will cut across disciplines such as anthropology, religion, politics, economics, environmental science, and the natural sciences. A major focus will be the sharing of ideas and research among American and overseas scholars to address the challenging and complex environmental issues faced by communities in Asia and the United States. The four-year, $400,000 Luce grant to underwrite these initiatives comes as part of Puget Sound’s One [of a Kind] comprehensive campaign.

“We are honored that the Henry Luce Foundation has provided this generous grant that will strengthen our growing reputation as a leader in Asian and Pacific Rim studies by providing our students and faculty members with direct and meaningful experiences in Southeast Asia,” said Puget Sound President Ronald R. Thomas. “Together they will investigate critical issues in regional development and the impact on the environment, while remaining sensitive to local needs and cultural differences. The field schools, new language programs, faculty grants to deepen expertise in Southeast Asia across disciplines, and public symposiums will give our Puget Sound community a deeper cultural awareness of a strategic area of the globe and initiate new academic relationships for the university across the Pacific Ocean.”

Luce Foundation Program Director for Asia Helena Kolenda said: “Environmental challenges will require global cooperation and engagement by people with interdisciplinary training, comparative perspectives, and knowledge of local conditions and historical and cultural context. LIASE aims to provide incentives for faculty and students to think in new ways about Asia and the environment; to energize Asian studies programs; and to build bridges between the humanities, social sciences, physical and biological sciences, and policy and professional fields.

“Puget Sound is one of the few liberal arts colleges in the United States with strength in Southeast Asian studies, an important region often overlooked in American academic and policy circles. We have been impressed by the hard work, enthusiasm, and scholarship that the university is devoting to its LIASE program.” 

Starting immediately, each school year Puget Sound will offer language classes, plus a semester of classes covering the culture and environmental issues relevant to a Southeast Asian country. Each summer these classes will embark with a faculty member on a three-week research trip to the area. Working with local partners, such as Asian universities, museums, and environmental and nonprofit groups (see full list below), the Puget Sound scholars will undertake interdisciplinary studies and research.

A pilot LIASE trip to Indonesia took place last year. This summer students will head to Malaysia, and next summer to Thailand. Classes in the Thai language start this fall on the Puget Sound campus, and are open to all students. Associate Professor of Anthropology Gareth Barkin, one of the faculty leaders who spearheaded the LIASE proposal and who also led the 2014 trip to Indonesia, said:

“The Indonesia trip generated great excitement among the students, who came away awed by the new cultural understanding they had of Indonesia and Islam, and at once perplexed and inspired by the complexity of the environmental issues we studied. This is a great opportunity for both students and faculty to form new connections and increase the focus on an area that is largely underrepresented in national liberal arts curricula.”

At the finish of the overseas field school, the students will present papers at the fall Puget Sound LIASE Southeast Asia Symposium on campus. The symposium will act as a forum to spread awareness of Southeast Asian culture and environmental research taking place both at Puget Sound and on the campuses of the Northwest Five Consortium—a collaboration of five national liberal arts colleges in Washington and Oregon that share resources and maximize student learning. The symposium will sponsor visiting scholars and its website will share videos, publications, and resources.

Barkin, who will direct the symposium, added, “We hope that the symposium will help University of Puget Sound to become a leading site for Southeast Asian studies in the region, and allow scholars and students to come together, learn from one another, and share their own research and experiences.”

The LIASE project builds on Puget Sound’s strengths in Asian Studies, science, and the innovative Environmental Policy and Decision Making Program. Faculty who helped develop the project include Associate Academic Dean Sunil Kukreja, and professors Gareth Barkin, in sociology and anthropology; Nick Kontogeorgopoulos, in international political economy; Rachel DeMotts, in politics and government; and Peter Wimberger, in biology.

The Field Initiatives in Southeast Asia program was created to build understanding and relationships between Asia and U.S., and to help seed thinking about new environmental measures to address threats to the sustainability of communities and lifestyles. For more information visit: hluce.org/liase.aspx.

Overseas partners in the LIASE field schools include: Indonesia: Atma Jaya University, Tasikoki Wildlife Rescue Center; Malaysia: The Borneo Project, Friends of Sarawak Museum, Sarawak Biodiversity Centre, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, World Wildlife Federation; Thailand: International Sustainable Development Studies Institute.

For more about University of Puget Sound’s LIASE program visit: pugetsound.edu/liase

Press photos from the 2014 pilot trip to Indonesia are available upon request.

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