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Director Shares Vision for Inaugural Oberlin Center for Languages and Cultures

Feb. 24, 2012

Marsha Lynn Bragg

Faber Vert

 

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded <http://new.oberlin.edu/home/news-media/detail.dot?id=3591761> Oberlin College a $950,000 grant to create a center for the study of languages and international cultures. 

The center will serve to strengthen international humanities teaching and research endeavors. It will have a critical role in meeting the college’s strategic goal of “internationalizing” Oberlin by providing an ongoing source of support for faculty development, curriculum development, and humanities programming essential to sustaining a current and vital international curriculum.

 

This comprehensive approach is necessary, as today’s challenges are inherently global. Such issues as climate change, trade, and human rights make knowledge of other cultures— their languages, histories, traditions, political and social structures, and values— essential for informed citizens in the 21st century.


The Mellon Foundation award includes a challenge grant of $500,000 that the college must match by $1.5 million in new gifts over the next four years. This will establish a $2 million endowment to support the center over time. While fundraising for the match is under way, the Mellon Foundation also awarded the college $450,000 in current-use funds to begin activities of the center in 2012-13.

Arts and Sciences Dean <http://new.oberlin.edu/arts-and-sciences/departments/chemistry/faculty_detail.dot?id=125209>Sean Decatur has named Professor of Hispanic Studies <http://www.oberlin.edu/faculty/sfaber/> Sebastiaan Faber as the first director of the Oberlin Center for Languages and Culture (OCLC). 

Faber also chairs the college’s Latin American studies program. He came to Oberlin in 1999. His research interests include the institutional history of Hispanism, democratic transition and historical memory in post-Franco Spain, and contemporary Spanish fiction. 

We asked Faber about his initial plans and overall vision for the new center. Read what he had to say.


   As the newly named director of the center, what will be your initial goals to get the center operational?
This spring semester we’ll be setting up everything for the center’s launch in fall 2012. This includes gathering detailed data on Oberlin’s many international dimensions, particularly courses and faculty. We’ll incorporate this information into an interactive website that will provide a completely new view of Oberlin as an international institution—for instance, a set of different browsable maps of the curriculum and faculty expertise in terms of geography, memory, or the Middle Ages, to see with one click what courses are offered on that topic across the catalog.

We’ll also be putting out a first set of calls for proposals for programming and course development, and we’ll work together with all the different parts of the institution that are involved with things international.
   Why is a center like this important in a liberal arts college and what does it mean for the college to get this level of support from a foundation?
One of the things we try to instill in our students is the ability to interconnect what they learn in different courses with their other activities, interests, and passions. The ability to make connections across disciplines, languages, and cultures is crucial for being an effective and engaged global citizen. Helping students and faculty do this is the center’s principal mission.

Oberlin has long had tremendous international strengths, but these have not been highlighted as much as they could have been. The support from the Mellon Foundation recognizes these strengths and Oberlin’s potential to leverage them more effectively. 
   Who else is part of the planning and development of the center?
The center has a steering committee consisting of 10 faculty and staff; but it’s really a collaborative effort in which lots of different departments, programs, and offices are involved. 
   In what ways will this center internationalize Oberlin?
The phrase “Internationalizing Oberlin” is a bit deceptive because Oberlin has long been international and focused on the world outside of the United States since its early years. One of the center’s missions is in fact to help showcase everything that is being done already. Beyond that, the center will try to strengthen Oberlin’s international profile by encouraging more collaboration around international themes at the level of programming and curriculum.
   What effect do you think this infusion of language and culture will have on traditional academic programs and departments—the hard sciences social sciences, humanities, and other discrete disciplines? Also, how will the center collaborate with the Conservatory of Music?
The center will definitely collaborate with the conservatory, which in some ways is one of Oberlin’s strongest assets in international terms. As far as other academic programs and departments are concerned, the center will help provide funding and coordination at the level of programming and course development.
   Will the center have a physical space (e.g., a room in the Main Library, Peters Hall, or within some other building on campus?)
Not in its first year or two, but after that it is likely. 

   How will this center interact with the Cooper International Learning Center (CILC), which specializes in foreign language education?
   
The CILC will be housed as part of the center, and in effect become its language pedagogy hub.
   Why is it important to use other disciplines and media when teaching a foreign language? How will the center aid in that approach?
One of the goals is to encourage more Oberlin students to begin or continue learning languages other than English. (“Foreign” is a bit of a misnomer, because the United States is very much a multilingual country.) We also want to work on the integration of languages other than English in courses across the curriculum, so that students in a course on Latin American history  or politics, for example, can use their skills in Spanish to better understand the subject matter, consult sources, etc. Oberlin already offers many courses that are taught in languages other than English, but these are generally limited what we sometimes refer to as “language departments”—programs that traditionally focused on teaching foreign languages and literatures. At Oberlin, all of these programs turned interdisciplinary long ago. 

   Will the center be open/accessible to the non-Oberlin community, e.g., other colleges and universities and perhaps offer seminars, training, lectures, and resources?
That is definitely a possibility down the road. 
   What role will the students have in the center?
Among other things, the center will be an important resource for all students interested in learning or teaching languages and integrating their language knowledge in their coursework. Together with the Study Away office, the center will also have a role in improving the integration of the study abroad experience into the Oberlin curriculum. 
   What role will the faculty have in the center?
In addition to being a resource for faculty engaged in learning and teaching languages, the center will help faculty plan collaborative programming and teaching around international themes.
   How or in what ways do you believe an Oberlin student’s educational/academic experience will be different once the center is established?
For students whose study or interests include languages, cultures, and the world outside of the United States, the center will help create a more coherent and meaningful educational experience. 
   This is to be an endowed program. Will this be part of the college’s capital campaign?
   Yes, it will be part of the capital campaign. 
How do you envision the center helping students to break out of their respective bubbles: the bubble of being at a small institution, the bubble of being in the college and or conservatory, the bubble of being within their major... so as to “internationalize” their academic experience?
I think the majority of our students are not actually trapped in bubbles like that. The problem of fragmentation and isolation is more of an issue at the level of organization: the way courses and events are planned by individual departments and programs, or the way the course catalog is organized, which really only gives a very limited sense of everything that our curriculum offers.

What will be the mission or expected outcomes of the center?
The international center for languages and cultures (actual name still to be determined) is dedicated to working with existing campus offices and departments—particularly Study Away, International Students, Communications, all of the humanities and social science programs, the Bonner Center for Service and Learning, and the offices of the deans and the president—in order to:
•Strengthen Oberlin’s profile as an international institution;
•Increase the internal and external visibility of Oberlin’s international profile—at the level of courses, faculty, student body, research, programming, organizations, and institutional connections—by gathering, and providing easy access to, relevant and reliable data on each of these areas;
•Encourage the learning, teaching, and study of languages among both students and faculty;
•Provide resources for students and faculty who are learning, teaching, or studying languages through the Cooper International Learning Center and other means;
•Increase the use of languages other than English in courses across the curriculum;
•Increase the number of students who spend time abroad as part of their study;
•Increase collaboration and coordination among faculty, departments, programs, and student organizations around topics of international interest at the level of courses, programming, and research;
•Strengthen and expand Oberlin’s connections with academic institutions abroad; and
•Strengthen community outreach: support Oberlin students working in area schools, as well as area teachers, engaged in international and language teaching; sponsor community events around topics of international and intercultural interest

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Oberlin College a $950,000 grant to create a center for the study of languages and international cultures. The center will serve to strengthen international humanities teaching and research endeavors. It will have a critical role in meeting the college’s strategic goal of “internationalizing” Oberlin by providing an ongoing source of support for faculty development, curriculum development, and humanities programming essential to sustaining a current and vital international curriculum.

This comprehensive approach is necessary, as today’s challenges are inherently global. Such issues as climate change, trade, and human rights make knowledge of other cultures—their languages, histories, traditions, political and social structures, and values—essential for informed citizens in the 21st century.

The Mellon Foundation award includes a challenge grant of $500,000 that the college must match by $1.5 million in new gifts over the next four years. This will establish a $2 million endowment to support the center over time. While fundraising for the match is under way, the Mellon Foundation also awarded the college $450,000 in current-use funds to begin activities of the center in 2012-13.

Arts and Sciences Dean Sean Decatur has named Professor of Hispanic Studies Sebastiaan Faber as the first director of the Oberlin Center for Languages and Culturess (OCLC). Faber also chairs the college’s Latin American studies program. He came to Oberlin in 1999. His research interests include the institutional history of Hispanism, democratic transition and historical memory in post-Franco Spain, and contemporary Spanish fiction.

We asked Faber about his initial plans and overall vision for the new center. Read what he had to say.

   As the newly named director of the center, what will be your initial goals to get the center operational?

This spring semester we’ll be setting up everything for the center’s launch in fall 2012. This includes gathering detailed data on Oberlin’s many international dimensions, particularly courses and faculty. We’ll incorporate this information into an interactive website that will provide a completely new view of Oberlin as an international institution—for instance, a set of different browsable maps of the curriculum and faculty expertise in terms of geography, time period, or topic, allowing anyone to see with one click what courses are offered on that topic across the catalog, on say, Southeast Asia, memory, or the Middle Ages.

We’ll also be putting out a first set of calls for proposals for programming and course development, and we’ll work together with all the different parts of the institution that are involved with things international.

   Why is a center like this important in a liberal arts college and what does it mean for the college to get this level of support from a foundation?

One of the things we try to instill in our students is the ability to interconnect what they learn in different courses with their other activities, interests, and passions. The ability to make connections across disciplines, languages, and cultures is crucial for being an effective and engaged global citizen. Helping students and faculty do this is the center’s principal mission.

Oberlin has long had tremendous international strengths, but these have not been highlighted as much as they could have been. The support from the Mellon Foundation recognizes these strengths and Oberlin’s potential to leverage them more effectively.

    Who else is part of the planning and development of the center?

The center has a steering committee consisting of 10 faculty and staff; but it’s really a collaborative effort in which lots of different departments, programs, and offices are involved.

    In what ways will this center internationalize Oberlin?

The phrase “Internationalizing Oberlin” is a bit deceptive because Oberlin has long been international and focused on the world outside of the United States since its early years. One of the center’s missions is in fact to help showcase everything that is being done already. Beyond that, the center will try to strengthen Oberlin’s international profile by encouraging more collaboration around international themes at the level of programming and curriculum.

   What effect do you think this infusion of language and culture will have on traditional academic programs and departments—the hard sciences social sciences, humanities, and other discrete disciplines? Also, how will the center collaborate with the Conservatory of Music?

The center will definitely collaborate with the conservatory, which in some ways is one of Oberlin’s strongest assets in international terms. As far as other academic programs and departments are concerned, the center will help provide funding and coordination at the level of programming and course development.

   Will the center have a physical space (e.g., a room in the Main Library, Peters Hall, or within some other building on campus)?

Not in its first year or two, but after that it is likely. 

   How will this center interact with the Cooper International Learning Center (CILC), which specializes in foreign language education?

The CILC will be housed as part of the center, and in effect become its language pedagogy hub.

   Why is it important to use other disciplines and media when teaching a foreign language? How will the center aid in that approach?

One of the goals is to encourage more Oberlin students to begin or continue learning languages other than English. (“Foreign” is a bit of a misnomer, because the United States is very much a multilingual country.) We also want to work on the integration of languages other than English in courses across the curriculum, so that students in a course on Latin American history  or politics, for example, can use their skills in Spanish to better understand the subject matter, consult sources, etc. Oberlin already offers many courses that are taught in languages other than English, but these are generally limited to what we sometimes refer to as “language departments”—programs that traditionally focused on teaching foreign languages and literatures. At Oberlin, all of these programs turned interdisciplinary long ago. 

   Will the center be open/accessible to the non-Oberlin community, e.g., other colleges and universities and perhaps offer seminars, training, lectures, and resources?

That is definitely a possibility down the road.

    What role will the students have in the center?

Among other things, the center will be an important resource for all students interested in learning or teaching languages and integrating their language knowledge in their coursework. Together with the Study Away office, the center will also have a role in improving the integration of the study abroad experience into the Oberlin curriculum.

    What role will the faculty have in the center?

In addition to being a resource for faculty engaged in learning and teaching languages, the center will help faculty plan collaborative programming and teaching around international themes.

    How or in what ways do you believe an Oberlin student’s educational/academic experience will be different once the center is established?

For students whose study or interests include languages, cultures, and the world outside of the United States, the center will help create a more coherent and meaningful educational experience.

    This is to be an endowed program. Will this be part of the college’s capital campaign?

Yes, it will be part of the capital campaign.

    How do you envision the center helping students to break out of their respective bubbles: the bubble of being at a small institution, the bubble of being in the college and or conservatory, the bubble of being within their major... so as to “internationalize” their academic experience?

I think the majority of our students are not actually trapped in bubbles like that. The problem of fragmentation and isolation is more of an issue at the level of organization: the way courses and events are planned by individual departments and programs, or the way the course catalog is organized, which really only gives a very limited sense of everything that our curriculum offers.

    What will be the mission or expected outcomes of the center?

The Oberlin Center for Languages and Cultures is dedicated to working with existing campus offices and departments—particularly Study Away, International Students, Communications, all of the humanities and social science programs, the Bonner Center for Service and Learning, and the offices of the deans and the president—in order to:

  • Strengthen Oberlin’s profile as an international institution;
  • Increase the internal and external visibility of Oberlin’s international profile—at the level of courses, faculty, student body, research, programming, organizations, and institutional connections—by gathering, and providing easy access to, relevant and reliable data on each of these areas;
  • Encourage the learning, teaching, and study of languages among both students and faculty;•
  • Provide resources for students and faculty who are learning, teaching, or studying languages through the Cooper International Learning Center and other means;
  • Increase the use of languages other than English in courses across the curriculum;
  • Increase the number of students who spend time abroad as part of their study;
  • Increase collaboration and coordination among faculty, departments, programs, and student organizations around topics of international interest at the level of courses, programming, and research;
  • Strengthen and expand Oberlin’s connections with academic institutions abroad; and
  • Strengthen community outreach by supporting Oberlin students working in area schools, as well as area teachers engaged in international and language teaching; and sponsoring community events around topics of international and intercultural interest.

 


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