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Lafayette’s new Asian studies minor is giving students knowledge about a continent that is becoming increasingly important in the global marketplace.

“I just think it’s absolutely essential as part of an undergraduate education to have some knowledge of the part of the world where 60 percent of our population lives — it’s critical to our economy and our national security, and China is our biggest trading partner. It’s really important for us to know about it,” says Robin Rinehart, chair of Asian studies and associate professor of religious studies.

The 2004-05 academic year was the first in which students who completed the Introduction to Asian Studies course and four approved courses from other departments could receive the minor.

Rinehart’s hopes to expand the minor into a major within the next few years.

“We think that more and more students are interested in Asia and recognize that understanding some region of Asia is important for any number of careers,” she says.

Paul Barclay, assistant professor of history, notes that prior to the official program, students could design majors or minors in Asian studies.

“The demand for the minor program wasn’t from the faculty or administration; a lot of the pressure came from the students who want to study this,” he says. “And it really is for the benefit of the students who are interested in Asian languages, Asian society, or the region. It gives them an opportunity to organize their coursework in a systematic fashion, which will make them more competitive in the business world in any position that is related to Asia.

“For young people at Lafayette, who are finding their way in the world and are conscious of making everything they do resume friendly, this helps them communicate to their parents, fellow students, and future employers how all of their interests are coherently connected.”

While Brian Geraghty ’05 (Hanover, New Hampshire) was not an official Asian studies minor, as a double major in religious studies and history, he did take enough courses within the auspices of the program to have achieved the minor title. He believes that giving students the chance to focus on Asian nations is a positive move.

“With the rate of globalization these days, Asia is the rising star; it’s becoming the big player, and there’s lots of talk about China,” he says. “When I started at Lafayette, my First-Year Seminar was called Demystifying the Non-Western World. It focused primarily on Asia and worked for me as a springboard. It fueled my interest in the Asian world, so I just continued taking courses. I have been encouraging a bunch of people to pursue an Asian studies minor because it really gives students knowledge about a different area that they probably wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.”

By giving students an official avenue to take several classes on Asian languages, cultures, and history, the College is continuing its efforts to embrace multiculturalism.

“It’s meeting several demands at once – student interest, reflecting the trends of the global economy — there‘s a nice synergy there,” Barclay says. “A lot of engineering and science students from Asia attend Lafayette because of its strong track record in science and engineering education, and it’s one of the few colleges that provide financial aid and work opportunities to international students. By having an Asian studies program in place, these students from other parts of the world feel we are taking their cultures and their homes seriously.”

Geraghty has personal experience with this.

“There was a student on my floor originally from South Korea who did sort of feel, as an Asian, that he was in the minority,” he says. “When he learned that I was doing my thesis on Chinese history and saw my map of his country hanging above my desk, I think it made him realize that there are actually people here who know about where he comes from.

“I think this move is a step in the right direction.”

Categorized in: Academic News