Web-based materials in English, Arabic, Chinese and Russian will prepare students to be global professionals.
The University of Maryland recently received a $750,000 grant from the National Security Education Program and the Institute of International Education to develop the Flagship Cultural Initiative (FCI). Cultural awareness is a critical part of learning a language, living abroad and working in an increasingly global economy, yet no clear methods for teaching and evaluating it exist. Through the Flagship Cultural Initiative, a team of flagship program directors and scholars will develop publicly available, online materials to foster cultural literacy. Staff will develop materials for students who are studying Arabic, Chinese and Russian, as well as a separate set of materials in English for students in any discipline.
“The faculty and staff in SLLC and the Language Flagship programs in Arabic and Persian are recognized for their expertise and creativity in providing immersive learning programs,” said ARHU Dean Bonnie Thornton Dill. “This grant will allow them to use that expertise to help students, regardless of their home institution, develop linguistic and cultural literacy.”
Initially, the materials will be geared towards flagship language students at UMD and at other institutions. Because these materials will be hosted on an open-source platform, they will ultimately be available for any student in the United States and beyond.
“Developing cultural knowledge is an essential part of preparing students to be sophisticated global professionals,” said Valerie Anishchenkova, principal investigator and associate professor of Arabic studies. “This initiative will develop materials to help students be successful in not only the classroom and study abroad, but also in complex, multicultural professional environments.”
Anishchenkova, an expert in Arabic studies, is currently exploring the relationships between identity, ideology and new media. Her research is directly relevant to concerns of the project.
“Our goal is to develop a curriculum that will help students identify and analyze cultural assumptions,” she said. “The ability to recognize personal bias is an important skill for all of us, regardless of field or profession, and needs to be addressed separately from learning a language or studying the history of a culture.”
UMD is the sole institution to receive this award, which was open to all 21 universities with domestic undergraduate flagship programs. The FCI is an interdisciplinary collaboration involving institutional partners and experts in Arabic, Russian and Chinese studies. These partners include the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, University of Hawaii, Portland State University, the American Councils for International Education and overseas flagship centers in Morocco, Kazakhstan, Beijing and Nanjing.