Asia Center receives national grant

By Kirsten Clancy

They hosted this summer’s Olympics and make up almost 20 percent of the world’s population.

They are the Chinese, and, according to Bob Haven, co-director of the UK’s Asia Center, we don’t know them very well.

“The average Westerner has very little understanding or knowledge of Asian culture,” Haven said.

However, as Asia makes its way into mainstream American culture, Asian studies programs have sprung up on college campuses across the country, Haven said.

UK’s Asian Studies program is set to expand as well after receiving a $300,000 grant from the Freeman Foundation’s Undergraduate Asian Studies Initiative this fall.

The Freeman Foundation awarded UK the 3-year grant to be used for the advancement of the Asian Studies program. Haven said the new funding will be utilized for scholarships and the study abroad program, as well as for new faculty members in Chinese history and Chinese language and culture.

The center also plans to start an Asian arts festival beginning fall 2009, Haven said, and in 2011, UK will host the Japanese Embroidery World Exhibition.

Six years ago, the Freeman Foundation awarded UK a $1.08 million grant, allowing for the creation of the Asia Center. As part of the initial grant in 2002, the Asia Center was required to submit periodic reports of the program’s progress on campus. The Freeman Foundation invited the Asia Center to submit another proposal early spring 2008, a very uncommon occurrence, Haven said.

“There are people knocking on their doors, and it’s not often they come to people saying, ‘Here, ask us for money,’ ” he said.

Shana Herron, assistant director of the Asia Center, said being asked to submit a proposal just shows how the Asia Center at UK has definitely advanced over the years.

“They are very concerned with universities sustaining their investment, and apparently they were pleased with the way we used the first large grant. It showed that UK has picked up,” she said.

The Asia Center will receive $150,000 the first year, which it will be required to match each year in order to receive money for the next year. Haven said he plans to do so through the Provost’s Office and the UK Office of Development. Through these departments, the Center hopes to gain additional funding to keep programs such as study-abroad going after the grant period has ended.

“We feel strongly about getting our students to Asia,” Haven said.

The Asia Center is not an academic department. Though UK supports the center through providing operating expenses, the Center solicits funds for projects itself.

Through new funding the Asia Center hopes to fulfill its goal of uniting UK, the Commonwealth and institutions and peoples in Asia.

“Asia is the next frontier on the planet. We need to accept that there is more than Western culture,” Haven said.