The University of Maryland has been granted status as a “minority-serving institution” for Asian Americans and related groups, a gateway to targeted federal support for scholarships and the growth of academic programs. It’s the first “minority-serving” designation for the University of Maryland.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education has granted Maryland $2.4 million over two years – one of only six schools nationwide, and the only major public research university, to be funded under this program.
Asian Americans now represent the largest minority group on the Maryland campus – more than 14 percent. To become an Asian American, Native American, Pacific Islander Serving-Institution, at least one in ten students must fall into one of these groups.
“This represents a major advance for the University, a tangible marker of our vital and growing diversity,” says Donna Hamilton, associate provost and dean for Undergraduate Studies, who oversees the Asian American Studies Program. “It is also a marker of the program’s rapid expansion, which is quickly becoming one of the best in the nation.”
Maryland’s Asian American Studies Program was created in 2000 and has experienced a growth spurt in the past two years.
“The ‘minority-serving’ designation will benefit every unit on campus, potentially giving added weight and consideration to any request for federal funding,” says the program’s first permanent director, Larry H. Shinagawa, associate professor of American Studies.
In addition to support for scholarships, fellowships and exchange programs, Shinagawa says the bulk of the money will be used to expand the program with a cutting-edge curriculum, additional courses and the creation of opportunities for experiential learning such as international study.
NEW FOCUS: SPECIFIC ETHNIC EXPERIENCES
Shinagawa plans to refocus the program and move beyond teaching a more generalized pan-Asian experience in America.
“Specific Asian nationalities have had quite distinct experiences in America and we want students to understand the differences. Also, international study will be an essential part of this program. It’s hard to connect without seeing it personally and directly.”
As part of a five-year plan, the program will start focusing on the experiences of Korean Americans, Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Vietnamese Americans and South Asian Americans. Maryland would become only the second university in the nation, after UCLA, to adopt this approach, according to Shinagawa.
“Many of our students come to study their cultural roots and we’re just skimming the surface if we only offer a generic, pan-Asian approach,” says program coordinator Lynne Chiao.
“This kind of study is of special interest to adoptees – children born in Asia, but raised in the United States by non-Asian parents,” Chiao says. “By the time they come to the University they’re hungry to understand their background and figure out who they are.”
In addition to cultural heritage students, the Asian American Studies Program at Maryland also reaches a wider audience on campus.
“The field is rich, and students from many backgrounds and disciplines are attracted,” Shinagawa explains. “Asian Americans have played significant roles domestically and internationally,” he says. As an example, he points to the experiences of China’s revolutionary leader, Sun Yat-sen, who was educated in the United States and became a citizen before going back to China.
“A significant portion of the best and the brightest in our nation will be Asian Americans, Shinagawa adds. “We’re helping train our country’s future leaders. Academically, it’s important to study these groups’ experiences.”
The new federal funding also will go to expand the research component of the Asian American Studies Program. It is one of only two U.S. Census Information Centers in the nation devoted to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The Maryland program helps give Asian American communities full access to U.S. census data.
Shinagawa will shortly release the most comprehensive portrait ever assembled of Chinese Americans, A Portrait of Chinese Americans, a full-color publication researched and produced jointly with OCA (formerly Organization of Chinese Americans).
The study challenges some widely held stereotypes about Chinese American success, the so-called “model minority myth,” especially with regard to educational and professional achievement.
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