Federal funding to support UChicago language instruction, graduate education

The University of Chicago’s programs in area studies and language instruction have received support with a new cycle of Title VI awards from the U.S. Department of Education, totaling $8.8 million of funding.

The awards allow the University to fulfill its commitment to excellence in language instruction and graduate education. They will support Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships for graduate students and four of the University’s centers for area studies.

Tom Maguire, associate director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, said the funding provides essential support for students whose studies require learning less commonly taught languages.

“The grant funding ensures that these languages are offered regularly and at a high level,” Maguire said. Without Title VI funds, he said, “Uzbek could not be taught; Armenian could not be taught.”

For some of the University’s Title VI language offerings, the less commonly taught designation is an understatement. For example, the University is currently the only institution in the United States where students can learn Georgian on campus.

The awards come as excellent news for the centers of area studies, many of which received significant Title VI funding as National Resource Centers. Faced with federal budget cuts to Title VI programs, the Department of Education opted to maintain high funding levels for individual centers while reducing the overall number of funded centers by more than 50. With a reduction of funding opportunities, five of UChicago’s centers for area studies received funding for Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships for graduate students: the Center for East Asian Studies, the Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the South Asian Language and Area Center, and the Center for Latin American Studies.

Between 2014 and 2018, the University’s Title VI awards will fund a range of language acquisition fellowships for graduate students and programming initiatives designed to offer opportunities for professionalization and curriculum development to UChicago students and educators from K-12 schools and two- and four-year colleges throughout Chicago.

Instruction in less commonly taught languages opens students to a range of professional and scholarly possibilities, but the impact of such instruction extends beyond the University. “It is not a misnomer to refer to the University of Chicago as the teachers of teachers,” said Meredith Clason, associate director of the Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies. “The majority of graduate students whose research focused on [this] region go on to teach at the university level,” Clason added. “We are producing and training the next generations of language and area studies scholars.”

Graduate student teaching is enriched by Title VI funding of the area studies centers. The Center for East Asian Studies partners with the Chicago Language Center and the Chicago Center for Teaching to offer a certificate in language pedagogy specific to East Asian languages. Graduate students can also apply for course development grants of $1,500, coupled with an additional materials budget of $1,500, to design curricula using East Asian media. National Resource Center funding also supports the salaries of language lecturers, many of whom are graduate students.

In addition to fostering future language teaching, the centers also provide opportunities for graduate students to increase their professional readiness by serving as area experts in both K-12 and City Colleges of Chicago outreach programs. Through guest lectures, conferences, film series and curriculum design workshops, graduate students have an impact on the surrounding community while developing their ability take charge of their own area expertise. The new partnership with City Colleges addresses a federal priority for National Resource Centers to work with community colleges and minority-serving institutions to assist their faculty in increasing the international content in their courses.

Whether their ultimate goals for language study are academic or professional, graduate students seeking to study languages designated by the U.S. State Department as critical or less commonly taught can apply for Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships to fund language study in summer or during the academic year.

Jessica Smith, who coordinates such fellowships in the University’s Office of Graduate Student Affairs, encourages all eligible students to apply. “Beyond the obvious financial benefits, it’s an excellent opportunity for graduate students to build their funding portfolio and increase their competitiveness for future fellowship applications,” Smith said.

The deadline for fellowship applications for both academic year and summer funding is Feb. 6. An information session providing details on the application process will be held on Jan. 9.