Importance of Pacific Rim, Student Demand Spurs UB to Expand Asian Studies Program

Release Date: November 18, 1994 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Student demand and the increasing importance of the Pacific Rim to the economy of the United States prompted the University at Buffalo to expand its Asian Studies program, established 18 months ago.

The interdisciplinary program provides credentials, such as language proficiency and specialized language courses for conducting business in Japan, to students who wish to pursue careers in Asia. While it is housed administratively in the Faculty of Social Sciences, it draws expertise from such diverse fields as management, engineering and natural sciences.

The primary focus of the program is East Asia -- China, Japan and Korea. Southeast Asia is a secondary focus. Two minors in Asian studies will be in place by next fall; a proposal for a major in Asian studies is being prepared.

"All indications are that a significant number of UB graduates will deal directly with Asia -- and particularly with the countries of the Pacific Rim -- in the years ahead. There is probably no area of the world more critical to the economic future of the United States than the Pacific Rim," says Stephen C. Dunnett, Ph.D., UB vice provost for international education.

"Asia is so crucial and has so much to offer," agrees Thomas W. Burkman, Ph.D., a modern Japanese historian who was appointed the program's director this summer.

A background in Asian studies "could be the decisive edge" for graduates interviewing for jobs with U.S. corporations and government agencies that require staff who are fluent in Asian languages and knowledgeable about Asian cultures, Burkman says.

As the variety of specialists and course options within Asian studies grows, new major and minor programs will be devised. Foundation grants are being sought to supplement university budget resources.

The program's expansion also has made available more options for all UB undergraduates to choose from to fulfill the university's recently implemented language requirements.

In addition to Chinese, the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures now offers a full range of courses in Japanese, Korean and Arabic. Moreover, the department's World Languages Institute offers supervised, self-study courses in Indonesian, Thai and Vietnamese.

Korean is the newest language on the course rooster, with 42 students enrolled in an introductory course this fall. A second-year level will be introduced next fall. "Business Japanese," a third-year course designed for those planning to conduct business in Japan, will be added to the roster next fall, while a "Business Chinese" course is being considered.

The demand for these courses has soared as the number of Asian and Asian-American students -- increasingly conscious of their cultural heritage -- has grown at UB. Since the 1970s, a large portion of UB's international student population has come from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia. Asian students represent more than 70 percent of the total foreign graduate-student constituency, while 10.2 percent of the undergraduate population is Asian-American.

The Asian Studies program also encourages students to participate in study abroad programs and internships, which offer an opportunity for students to receive practical training in technology and in the society with which they will likely be dealing in the future. Students in management and engineering are offered the option of internships in Japan.

"An internship is where they really come to grips with Asia in their professions," Burkman says.

The university has appointed faculty members in Asian comparative education and medieval Japanese history to help meet the needs of the expanding program. A search is under way for a new director of the Japanese language program. Japanese is the fastest-growing foreign language course at UB, perhaps because of its perceived relevance to business and technology, Burkman says.

In addition to academic courses, the program has instituted an "Asia At Noon" bag-lunch series for faculty and graduate students, and will host a New York Conference on Asian Studies next September.

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