CSB and SJU receive two grants to fund collaborative research in Asia

February 16, 2010

The College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University have received two grants totaling $71,385 from the ASIANetwork Freeman Foundation Student-Faculty Fellows Program to support collaborative research in Asia during summer 2010.

The first grant of $35,885 will fund "The Storytelling Tradition of Geng Village: Preserving an Intangible Cultural Heritage" in China. The team will be led by Zhihui Sophia Geng, assistant professor of Chinese language and literature with the Asian Studies Program and the modern and classical languages department at CSB and SJU, and includes five students: Shazreh Ahmed, Abbie Helminen, Katlynn Nelson and Taylor Peterson from CSB, and Philip Whitcomb from SJU.

The second grant of $35,500 will fund "Five Independent Undergraduate Research Projects" in Nepal. The team will be led by Gar Kellom, executive director of the Men's Center at SJU, and includes five students: Elizabeth Carroll-Anderson, Megan Kack, Jessica Najarian and Sarah Mahowald from CSB, and December 2009 CSB graduate Jamie Utzinger.

Geng Village in Gaochen City, Hebei Province is a small farming village that emerged in the early 15th century around the tomb erected by Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of the Ming dynasty, in memory of Zaichen Geng, his foster father. Because of its importance historically and its pivotal location, an impressive tradition of oral storytelling became identified with the village, and today Geng Village has over 230 officially recognized storytellers. 

Zhihui Sophia Geng and the five students will spend a week in Beijing and Tianjin interviewing scholars, activists and officials in China who are seeking to preserve China's "intangible cultural heritage," including some of the tales told by oral storytellers in Geng Village. They will then travel to Geng Village to spend three weeks conducting on-site observations, person-to-person interviews and videotaping Geng Village storytellers. 

Once back in the United States, they will complete an academic paper focused on their discoveries, compile a collection of 15 of the folktales they discover at Geng Village and produce a video documentary about storytelling in Geng Village.  

The second grant group plans to spend six weeks in Nepal. 

Two projects will be conducted by biology majors who plan to enter graduate studies in medicine and dentistry. Najarian will focus on a qualitative study of the lack of adequate understanding regarding Alzheimer's and dementia in the Kathmandu Valley as well as outside the valley in Biratnajar and Dharan. Kack will study the socio-cultural forces that hinder the ability of Western dental practice to bring advanced dental technology to Nepal and consider strategies for alleviating this problem. 

Two other projects focus upon Nepali women in villages and monasteries. Utzinger will chronicle the life stories of five women through narratives and photographic images in the Pokhara area in order to produce an image collection and photo-journal for display in selected sites in Nepal and in the CSB and SJU art gallery. Carroll-Anderson will tutor Buddhist nuns in Spanish, and conduct research on why Nepali women enter monasteries and what their current roles are in the monastic community.  Her work will be included in a publication by Kellom produced shortly after their return.

The fifth project focuses upon the lack of adequate instruction in art, modern art techniques and art history in the schools of Nepal. Mahowald, who is returning to Nepal for a second summer, will help design and integrate an art education curriculum for several art schools in Nepal.

During the summer of 2010, the ASIANetwork Freeman Student-Faculty Fellows Program will support collaborative research in East and Southeast Asia for a 12th year. Over $400,000 has been provided by the Freeman Foundation to support the research of 13 faculty mentors and 56 students in Cambodia, China-Tibet, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, the People's Republic of China, the Philippines, Thailand,  and Vietnam.  Six programs will be undertaken in East Asia, five in Southeast Asia and two in Nepal.