Brigham Young University, in conjunction with the University of Utah, was named the National Resource Center for Latin American and Asian Studies, providing the two schools with $7 million in funding. This grant, administered by the United States Department of Education, provides funds to help institutions establish themselves as national centers of excellence in language and area studies for specific regions of the world.
Grants are awarded for four years at a time, and schools must reapply when their grant runs out – this is the fourth time BYU and the University of Utah have been named NRC for Asia and the third times for Latin America.
“Most universities apply on their own,” said James Mayo, scholarship coordinator at BYU’s David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies. “But we think BYU and the University of Utah reinforce each other in different ways; we each have strengths, and our strengths work together.
Both schools contribute equally to grant applications. Once grants are received, each school administers different aspects while collaborating and sharing information about their programs as much as possible.
Eric Hyer, who was coordinator of the Kennedy Center’s Asian studies program until his retirement this summer, recalls sitting down with the University of Utah’s Asian studies faculty and visiting realize that the two schools would have a better application by working together.
“They have strengths in Southeast Asia and we have strengths in Northeast Asia, so we really complemented each other. We thought that alone we might not be able to win an NRC grant, so we explored the idea of doing it together,” Hyer said.
Their idea turned out to be a good one. Both schools put together an excellent proposal and were first named NRC in 2010 and have successfully renewed the grant three times since. Four years later, at the time of renewal, the Latin American studies programs of both schools, seeing the success of the Asian studies consortium, formed their own consortium. They have received the NRC grant three times.
To be a national resource center
NRC grants are awarded for specific regions of the world; a university or a consortium can apply for a grant in one or more regions. They provide opportunities for students, faculty, and even the surrounding community to increase their engagement and knowledge of the region of the world for which NRC is intended.
Funding can be used to offer language courses, organize conferences at the university, finance travel for professors to external conferences, improve library collections related to the region, do community outreach and bring guests to campus, including area specialists and area scholars.
Mayo sees language course funding as one of the great benefits of being a national resource center. Many BYU students do assignments and learn new languages, but when they return to campus, they may have difficulty continuing their language studies if the language is not fluent.
“Almost every semester, I’ve seen language courses that are offered specifically because we have this funding. The on-campus Center for Language Studies wouldn’t be able to offer as many courses in less commonly taught languages if we didn’t have these NRC grants,” Mayo said.
The grant money has made possible classes in less commonly taught languages like Vietnamese, Cebuano, K’iche’, Quechua and more. It also finances Chinese, Japanese and Korean courses.
However, these courses are only a small part of the benefits that NRC grants bring to campus. “The goal of all this funding,” Mayo says, “is that our university community can have deeper interactions with Latin America and Asia, and that our students have better opportunities to engage more and get to know these regions of the world better.”
Worth every effort
Applicants for NRC grants should provide a detailed account of the resources and programs they already have in place – courses offered, professors with ties to the area, materials held in the university library, etc. – along with a detailed proposal outlining what they would do with the grant money to achieve the program objectives.
Putting these heavy apps together takes many hours of work, but it’s worth it, says Mayo. “It’s been hours and hours of work and effort to apply for these grants, but receiving all of this money that directly benefits BYU faculty and students and the campus community as a whole was completely worth all the hours without sleep.”
Hyer calls NRC grants a blessing for the university, and Marc Yamada, who replaced Hyer as coordinator of the Asian studies program when he retired, adds, “By providing generous funding for the language teaching, cultural events, research and development programs in Asia. and Latin American Studies, this grant will help prepare BYU students to interact effectively with much of the world’s population when they graduate. It will also reinforce BYU’s status as an important center for area studies in the United States.