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A timeline of the history of the Carolina Asia Center

  • NOTE: In 2019, Morgan Pitelka–a historian of Asia–prepared to step down from the position of Director of the Carolina Asia Center by contacting all former staff of the center to request personal reflections on their time working for the CAC. The patchwork history of the CAC below is stitched together from the emails, Word documents, phone calls, and shared files that former staff provided. All these materials have also been archived at the CAC for posterity.

Asian Studies at UNC Before the Founding of the Carolina Asia Center

By Larry Kessler and Kevin Hewison

Before the 1960s, UNC had little to offer students on the vast subject of Asia in any discipline. The pioneer in developing Asian Studies was John D. (“Doug”) Eyre, who was hired by the Geography Department in 1958 and began to offer courses in East Asian and Southeast Asian geography. None of the Asian languages were taught until 1966 when a former Marine officer who had learned Chinese in the service, was hired by the Linguistics and Slavic Languages Department to teach Chinese. With the boom in higher education in the mid-1960s through the 1970s, many more Asian specialists were hired in various disciplines, including History (Lawrence Kessler-1966, Miles Fletcher-1975), Anthropology (James Peacock-1967), Political Science (James White and Hsi-Sheng Chi) and Religious Studies (James Sanford-1971).

Similar growth was experienced in East Asian languages, although in peculiar administrative circumstances. The first to be hired was Jerome P. (“Sandy”) Seaton in 1968 by the Linguistics and Non-Western Languages Department (recently separated from Slavic Languages). Linguistics first offered Japanese as a self-instructional course in the fall of 1976. The next year, it hired a teaching assistant to offer the first regular instruction in elementary Japanese, with Professors Fletcher, Sanford and White teaching intermediate Japanese as overloads. Later, when the Department of Linguistics and Non-Western Languages was disbanded, Chinese and Japanese language personnel and instruction were housed in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature. (Jokingly, these two departments, as long as they housed East Asian languages, were referred to, respectively, as Linguistics and “Unwanted Languages,” and “Communist Languages.”) With a Japan Foundation grant in 1981, the College appointed a lecturer in Japanese in Slavic Languages. In 1992, language personnel and instruction were shifted once again to their permanent home in the Curriculum in Asian Studies. Two years later, Jan Bardsley was hired by the Curriculum as its first academically-trained Japanese language and literature specialist.

As faculty and courses expanded, an ad-hoc Committee on East Asia was established in the 1970s to coordinate and promote East Asian Studies. Among its more successful programs were semi-annual picnics for faculty and students; annual bus tours to Washington, DC to explore Asian art at the Freer Gallery, bonsai gardens in the National Arboretum and pandas at the National Zoo; a week-long East Asia Culture Festival; and various film series. Student interest in East Asia as a course of study consequently grew. The International Studies major was reorganized in 1967, under the leadership of Professor Eyre, to include a concentration in East Asia, but to major in the subject a student had to receive special approval from the Interdisciplinary Studies office in the College to construct an ad-hoc course of study. As grass-root student demand for an East Asian major increased, the faculty worked to create a separate interdisciplinary B.A., and in 1979 the College finally approved the major and established the Curriculum in East Asian Studies to oversee it.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, significant funding was secured from outside sources—among them, the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, the Freeman Foundation, Alston Gardner, the Japan Foundation, the Jones Apparel Group, the Luce Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Education—to hire new faculty, develop new courses, add to library holdings, underwrite study abroad programs, provide research and travel funds, and offer academic enrichment programs. One major institutional change was the creation of the Carolina Asia Center in 2002 with a full-time director, funded initially by the Freeman Foundation, to continue the work first started by the Committee on East Asia in the 1970s of developing Asian Studies at UNC.

The Conceptualization of the Carolina Asia Center, 2001

By W. Miles Fletcher, March 2019

My involvement in the Carolina Asia Center began in the summer of 2001. At the request of Senior Associate Dean for the Social Sciences Richard Soloway (History), I then began to write a first draft of a proposal in response to the Freeman Foundation’s recent announcement of its Undergraduate Asian Studies Funding Initiative. As the proposal developed, it came to include funding to create a center for Asian Studies on campus.

In early 2001 the Freeman Foundation invited colleges and universities across the nation to submit proposals in mid-October to develop their programs in Asian Studies, especially in East Asian Studies. Individual grants could provide a maximum of two million dollars over four years. This was a new, bold, and exciting program for the Foundation. It had previously focused on sponsoring projects around the nation to strengthen teaching about Asia in secondary schools.

The time seemed right for UNC to apply for such a grant to take Asian Studies on campus to a higher level of excellence. During the past two decades, a formal program in Asian Studies had developed with the creation in the late 1970s of an interdisciplinary Curriculum in East Asian Studies (EAST), which encompassed specialists in East Asian Studies in several departments, such as Anthropology, Geography, History, Political Science, and Religious Studies. At different times, the Department of Linguistics or the Department of Slavic Languages had administered instruction in Asian languages. In the early 1990s EAST became the Curriculum in Asian Studies (CAS). While offering an interdisciplinary major, the CAS assumed responsibility for administering instruction in Asian languages. During the 1990s and early 2000s the faculty teaching Asian languages expanded along with the number of faculty members who specialized in Asia hired by various departments. Under the direction of a newly appointed full-time director, Dr. Robert Miles, the Study Abroad Office placed a priority on expanding opportunities for UNC undergraduates to study in Asia. As the chair of the Curriculum in Asian Studies in 2001, I was glad to compose the first draft of a proposal to the Freeman Foundation.

During the summer, as I worked on the proposal and discussed various projects that a Freeman Grant could support, I wondered who or what unit would supervise the projects. One good answer, I thought, would be the creation of a new center for Asian Studies. The overall proposal ended up recommending many items. These included funds for two new full-time faculty positions in the CAS, one in Japanese humanities and one in Chinese humanities; funds for library purchases; funds for faculty course development grants; funds to support undergraduates studying in Asia and study abroad programs in Asia; and funds to pay a director for a center for Asian Studies on campus. The priority of the new center would be to implement the programs supported by the Freeman grant. While the proposal went through revisions up the line (so to speak), the final proposal in October 2001, “Asian Studies in the Twentieth Century: A Strategy for Growth at Carolina,” centered on these projects.,

Happily, UNC received notice in late December 2001 that it had received a fully funded grant from the Freeman Foundation of two million dollars to be spent over the next four years. The College of Arts and Sciences quickly formed the Freeman Foundation Grant Implementation Committee (FFIC) with the mission of planning the enactment of the grant’s projects, which included planning the creation of a center for Asian Studies. Professor John Pickles who had recently arrived on campus as the Earl N. Phillips Professor in International Studies and Geography headed the Committee. In its report of June 2002, the FFIC recommended that the center be named the “Carolina Asia Center” (CAC). In September, Professor Steven I. Levine became the Interim Director of the CAC. In 2004, Professor Kevin Hewison assumed the position of CAC Director. I served on the FFIC to 2007 and then served on the CAC Management Committee to 2014.

I should add that in 2004 the DAS officially became a department in the College of Arts and Sciences with its first chair selected from faculty members in the unit, Professor Gang Yue.

It is important to recognize the crucial support for the Freeman Grant application given by the administration of the College of Arts & Sciences, especially Dean Risa Palm and Senior Associate Dean for Social Sciences Richard Soloway. Their support for Asian Studies derived from their general commitment to strengthening programs in International Studies on campus, which included planning for and raising funds for the construction of the Global Education Center. The vigorous engagement of at least a dozen or so faculty members from various departments also proved essential to the success of the Freeman Grant and the creation of the CAC.

Interim Director of the Carolina Asia Center, 2002-2004

Based on an interview with Steve Levine by Morgan Pitelka, February 15, 2019

In 2002, after teaching at the University of Montana as a Professor of History, Steve became the Interim Director of the Asia center while a search was conducted for a full-time, permanent director. Support was at that point minimal in terms of funding from the college, and there was not even money for furniture. Steve furnished the offices out of his own pocket. The Center’s first home was in West House, built in late 1930s as a small regular private house with four rooms. After it was deeded to the university, it served various purposes, including as the home of the program in the humanities. The building was in poor condition, and the Director’s office was in the back and there were three other small offices, including some faculty from Asian Studies. The business manager, Peter Langstrom, had an office there as well. The Freeman grant funded a half-time assistant, a student assistant, and a work study student who was there maybe 10 hours a week.

Steve served as interim director for two years, until Kevin Hewison was hired in an international search. When Kevin arrived, the physical location of the center was moved to the new Global Education Center in 2004-2005.

During his two years as interim director, Steve was assisted by an advisory committee that consisted of half a dozen faculty: Jan Bardsley, Don Nonini, Judith Farquhar, Jim Hevia, and Miles Fletcher. During this period, Steve also recalls that he suggested the name “Carolina Asia Center” for the newly funded unit. He worked closely with the committee to hand out funding from the Freeman award, including student scholarships and faculty grants. He also started a program in the second year of faculty presentations of present work: TeaCART (Carolina Asia Research Talks). He recalls that they had an actual tea cart that they used to serve tea at the gatherings once a month so people could get to know each other.

This was a particularly exciting moment in the history of the development of the Asian Studies community because all these people in different fields didn’t have much regular contact. Steve worked a lot with Dan Gold in Study Abroad, and with Dan’s help started a Chinese language conversation club called the Tang Dynasty Club. He also made contact with the Chapel Hill school system which was developing or had its Chinese immersion program at Glenwood, and Steve was starting a teacher resource kit called the China Box.

At the end of our chat, Steve noted that he tried to make the center a place that would push the university to connect more with the community and to move beyond the walls of the institution, by extending its reach to support schools and other communities that pedigreed Asianists didn’t reach.

The First Director of the Carolina Asia Center, 2005-2013

By Kevin Hewison, Director, January 2005-June 2013

I was fortunate to be appointed as the first Director of CAC and as a member of the faculty of the Department of Asian Studies (DAS) in 2005. I was recruited from the City University of Hong Kong, where I had established and served as the Director of the Southeast Asia Research Centre.

In my years as Director of CAC, I considered myself a member of a team of colleagues who were working assiduously to build on a foundation of that Asian studies at UNC, laid down over several decades. Even as first Director of CAC, I had been preceded by a series of interim directors, who managed funds and began activities that were to continue for several years.

The establishment of the CAC, proposed for several years, was precipitated by a generous grant from the Freeman Foundation. The success in attracting that funding was due to the work of several colleagues in earlier years, including Craig Calhoun, Miles Fletcher, Gang Yue, Jan Bardsley, Steven Levine and others. While the first Asia-related courses were probably offered in the late 1950s, it is known that there were connections between Asia, North Carolina and the University existed over a longer period. To mention just one example, President Frank Porter Graham served as United States representative on the UN Committee of Good Offices assigned to mediate between the Dutch and the Indonesians during Indonesia’s war for independence and later as United Nations mediator and representative to India and Pakistan in the Kashmir dispute (1951-1967). At the University, Chinese language instruction began in 1966 and Japanese was introduced in 1976. The Curriculum in Asian Studies was established in 1979, becoming DAS in July 2004.

That upgrade to a Department followed the first Freeman Foundation Asian Studies Initiative grant, which resulted in the late 2001 foundation of the CAC. The CAC began with three sets of activities: innovative teaching; cutting-edge research; and community partnerships. Most attention was given to the enhancement of undergraduate teaching. From its founding, the CAC also acted as a coordinating center for UNC’s Asian studies mission, facilitating multidisciplinary Asian studies, embedding languages and area studies in the undergraduate program, and enhancing the undergraduate experience of Asia and Asian studies. From 2002, CAC also managed the UNC-based activities for the North Carolina Center for South Asia Studies.

Over my years with UNC-Chapel Hill there have been some substantial achievements and major changes for the CAC and for Asian studies at UNC. These are listed below and all resulted from collaborations with colleagues.

Undergraduate education

My main goal as the CAC’s director was to expand undergraduate education about Asia. This was a good fit with the CAC’s first funding was from the initialFreeman Foundation grant. This attention to the undergraduate curriculum continued when UNC-Chapel Hill became one of a handful of colleges and universities to receive a second round of Freeman Foundation funding in 2007-8.

This funding allowed an expansion of Asian studies within the College, with DAS expanding rapidly and establishing a range of courses and majors. The Department had about six tenured and tenure-track faculty in 2005 and almost tripled that number over the decade that followed. In addition, with support from the College and the second round of Freeman Foundation funding, the number of Asia-focused scholars across the UNC campus was expanded, including in the social sciences. With Hindi, Chinese and Japanese strong, Korean language and studies was embedded when a tenure-track position was provided, again with the support of the Freeman Foundation.

The expansion of faculty naturally saw a multiplication of Asia-related course offered on campus. By 2013, students in the College had scores of courses available to them and several majors and minors they could elect. Asia-related courses were also available in the professional Schools and graduate students were receiving support for courses and fieldwork. Students responded enthusiastically, and majors and minors in Asian Studies expanded. The number of Asia-related course expanded across the campus from dozens in the early 2000s to hundreds in the early 2010s.

A notable Asia-related innovation that was College-wide was the establishment of the Nationa University of Singapore’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Faculty of Science and the UNC College of Arts and Sciences establishing an innovative joint undergraduate degree program in 2007. At the time, it was one of the first undergraduate international joint degrees at a U.S. institution and built on linkages that had developed through Study Abroad and the generous funding by Alston Gardner. While the program began slowly, after a decade, there were more than 700 students from the two universities who had participated.

Study Abroad

Playing a major role in expanding student interest in Asia-related courses was the Study Abroad program, where I closely cooperated with Asia Director Dan Gold and Study Abroad Director Bob Miles.

The goal was simple: get more students to Asia. This was achieved with the support of the Freeman Foundation and with grants by Alston Gardner for a very popular and important program that took 30 students each summer to Singapore and one other location in the region. Launched in 2006, the Phillips Ambassadors Scholarship did much to promote studying abroad in Asia.

The numbers of students undertaking study abroad programs in Asia grew by leaps and bounds. In 2003-4, less than 100 students undertook study abroad in Asia. By 2008-9, this had expanded to 230. It kept expanding after that, having weathered SARS, the global financial crisis and cuts and freezes to College budgets.

FedEx Global Education Center

The official opening of the FedEx Global Education Center on October 12, 2007 was a milestone for the internationalization of education at UNC-Chapel Hill and also for the CAC. To that time, the CAC had occupied West House, a tiny and inadequate building at the center of campus, but without the capacity for meetings, events or even for providing adequate office space for staff. Indeed, for much of 2007, the CAC had no “home” at all, operating from my faculty office.

The move to the FedEx Global Education Center (GEC) placed the CAC on the same foundation as other area studies centers and provided the space and recognition for events organized by the CAC. The result was some spectacular events that included an exhibition of Thailand’s relations with UNC, including displays about conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker, known as the “Siamese Twins,” settled in Mt Airy in the 1830s and became U.S. citizens, public lectures by Professor Noam Chomsky and Professor Karl Jackson, and a massive exhibition by artist Professor elin o’Hara slavick that filled the GEC.

Research initiatives

While the CAC’s focus was on undergraduate studies, the CAC also provided support for graduate students doing pre-dissertation fieldwork and for language training. From the beginning of the Freeman Foundation grant, the Center supported faculty for travel and research in Asia, supplemented with a variety of funding sources, including the generous support of the Grier/Woods Presbyterian China Initiative. All of this contributed to the fostering of a culture of research on Asia and assisted faculty to expand and develop courses on Asia. Of special personal interest were two separate funding opportunities provided by the generous support of the Royal Thai Embassy and the Mellon Foundation.

Thailand has long been the focus of my research, and it was with some satisfaction that UNC-Chapel Hill was able to secure funding from the Royal Thai Embassy. This funding allowed the CAC to highlight Thai studies and Thailand at UNC-Chapel Hill and across the state. It funded an exhibition and reception, an academic conference, and a visiting fellowship for a Thai academic. In line with attention to undergraduate education, it also provided support for study abroad in Thailand, course development, and the expansion of library holdings on Thailand.

The support from the Mellon Foundation was in the form of a Sawyer Seminar. This program allowed a 2-semester seminar that graduate students could join for credit, visiting speakers, a series of workshops and support for two graduate students and one postdoctoral fellow. The Sawyer Seminar built on an earlier workshop funded by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) in 2008. In partnership with Professor Arne Kalleberg (Sociology) this work, which is ongoing, has resulted in two special issues of American Behavioral Scientist(2013) and a book co-edited with Kalleberg and Professor Michael Hsiao, Policy Responses to Precarious Work in Asia(Academia Sinica, 2015). Another pleasing outcome of the Sawyer Seminar and SSRC support is ongoing research funded by Seoul National University Asia Center, with Professor Kwang-Yeong Shin (Chung-Ang University in Seoul), and a book contract with Stanford University Press.

Concluding comments

When I arrived at UNC, the CAC was just beginning its work, with some generous funding, but with limited staffing, spartan and tiny accommodation, and with limited visibility on campus. When I left – something I came to deeply regret – after more than seven years as Director, my feeling was that the CAC was vibrant and well-recognized center, with considerable scholarly credibility locally, nationally and internationally. It had supported students to get in touch with Asia, through scores of new and revised courses and wonderful study abroad opportunities. Faculty had been able to expand their teaching and research on Asia through the support of the Center. The CAC had also become an advocate for Asian studies on campus and received the support of Deans as Asian studies was expanded. By 2013, CAC and DAS had become mature scholarly centers for the further expansion of Asian studies at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Associate Director, 2008-2013

By Stephanie Nelson

I received my Masters of Geography with a Graduate Certificate in International Development in December 2007 from UNC – Chapel Hill.

My graduate research was conducted in the province of Phang Nga, the region of Thailand that experienced the highest loss of life for the country due to the devastating tsunami in December 2004. I was studying long-term economic recovery efforts by community-based organizations using tourism as a catalyst for growth and recovery. I met Kevin Hewison, then Director of the CAC, in Fall 2006 upon my return from my first stay in Thailand.  I audited a class of his that year and asked for him to serve on my committee as I prepared to conduct research in Thailand in 2007.

The Associate Director position at the CAC opened up in late fall 2007 and I applied and interviewed with various specialists on Asia across the University and began working at the CAC in January 2008.

Some highlights at CAC during my employment:

The CAC received a grant from the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2008.

As part of this grant, the CAC was involved in a variety of diverse yet inter-related events to focus on Thai-US connections, and especially to those in North Carolina. We worked with the North Carolina Collection at UNC to curate a photo exhibit on Eng and Chang Bunker, the famous Siamese-twins who were born in Thailand. They spent years with P.T. Barnum and then retired to life in North Carolina, married sisters and both had many children. The CAC met with descendants of the Bunker family and worked to display some of their own personal artifacts and hosted them at celebration where a delegation from the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs attended as well. It was an amazing experience to see these people meet with common roots. Hosting the delegation for a few days was also a highlight – organizing tours to various companies in RTP, integrating them into seminars with other Thai specialists from UNC and across the globe, and giving them a taste of North Carolina.

Another highlight during my time at the CAC was hosting Noam Chomsky at UNC in conjunction with an art exhibit at the FedEx Global Education Center by Professor elin o’Hara slavick. Utilizing the FedEx Global Education Center was a wonderful tool to encourage collaboration and elevate the profile and exposure of area studies research to UNC and larger surrounding areas.

I enjoyed my time at the Carolina Asia Center immensely and was constantly impressed by the quality of research on Asia that was generated by faculty, graduate and undergraduate students at UNC – Chapel Hill.  I found great joy in being able to administer grants to the many deserving people at UNC and was greatly encouraged as the CAC sought to continue to expand avenues for cross-disciplinary interaction between Asian experts as well as increase the exposure of asian studies research to the greater UNC community and beyond.

Associate Director, 2013-2016; Acting Director, 2016-2017

By Thupten Norbu

Thupten Norbu joined the Carolina Asia Center as the Associate Director in November 2013. He was promoted to be the Acting Director in June 2016 when Director Pitelka took a sabbatical leave. In May 2017, Norbu left the center to join the North Carolina Area Health Education Centers Program Office at the UNC School of Medicine where he currently serves as the Director of Planning and Operations. His contributions to the Carolina Asia Center include but are not limited to the following:

  • Institutional Development:
    • Led the development of the 2014-17 strategic plan, which provided a framework for articulating the center’s mission, developing institutional capacity, and programs for faculty and students. The strategic plan was co-developed with Director Pitelka with input from the CAC staff and the CAC Management and Advisory committees.
  • Operations and Management:
    • Oversaw daily operations and management of the center.
    • Created new positions (Program Associate and a part-time Outreach Associate).
    • Chaired the recruitment of the new Program Manager for Phillips Ambassadors Program.
    • Designed, improved, or administered all of the fellowship programs for faculty and students. The fellowships included: 1) FLAS fellowship 2) Mahatma Gandhi Fellowship 3) Course Development Grants and 4) Conference Travel Grants and 5) Research Travel Grants.
    • Directed/managed the CAC Visiting Scholars and Research Affiliate Programs. Improved the Visiting Scholars program to serve a scholarly purpose and at the same time converted it into a revenue generating program. The program now compensates faculty advisers for their mentorship time with their scholars and generate flexible funds for the center.
    • Oversaw the work of the Outreach Associate to develop various outreach materials for K-12 and community colleges. The outreach materials included: 1) Asia-themed lesson plans and materials and 2) SAT-College Prep program for Asian refugee students. The SAT-College prep program was developed in partnership with Asian Students Association.
    • Initiated the development of a new partnership with Durham Technical Community College to offer Asia related programs at the Community College and developed a relationship with the UNC School of Education to organize Asia-related conferences.
  • Grants:
    • Co-wrote with Director Pitelka the 2014 grant application to the Department of Education to establish the center as the first Title VI-funded pan-Asia National Resource Center in the southeast United States (successfully secured $1.9 million). Oversaw and submitted all reporting requirements for the grant.
    • Lead author of a five-year grant application to the Korea Foundation to establish a tenure- track position in Korean Studies and a major in Korean Studies (Total funding: $527,284; successfully secured $370,000 from the Korea Foundation and $158,255 from the Dean’s office). Co-wrote the grant application with the Chair of Asian Studies, Nadia Yaqub.
  • UNC-Wide Programming:
    • Conceived the first pan-Asia week celebration at UNC and developed programs with students, faculty and community members that promoted better understanding of Asia among the participants, visibility of the center, and leadership development opportunities of students and student organizations. Oversaw the program development and implementation with Program Associate Brittany Darst. Outreach Associate Sarah Brown also supported the initiative.

The Transition of the Phillips Ambassadors Program

By Janet Walters

The following is to the best of my recollection. Further details and more exact dates are reflected in recorded gift agreements and minutes from annual board meetings of the Phillips Ambassadors Advisory Board.

The Phillips Ambassadors Program was originally administratively housed in the Study Abroad Office (SAO). The program sent an initial cohort of 21 undergraduates to Asia in 2007. In the fall of 2013, at the request of the program donor, Earl N. “Phil” Phillips and his family, the Phillips Ambassadors Program was reassigned to the Carolina Asia Center (CAC) as the program’s administrative home. Frustrated by what was then high employee turnover in the SAO – and the excitement of new leadership and growth within the CAC – the Phillips family proposed to move the Phillips Ambassadors Program from the SAO to the CAC.

In making the transition official, Daniel Lebold, Director of Development for UNC Global, drafted a revised gift agreement and worked with the Phillips family and other involved parties to reach an agreement the was fiscally responsible, achieved the program’s goals of supporting UNC students in studying abroad in Asia, and brought greater stability to the program. The transition involved the guidance and insight of many stakeholders, including key people in the Study Abroad Office, Development, and the Carolina Asia Center, among others. The Phillips Ambassadors Program has always straddled several different departments making changes and modifications to the program at times complex.

Included in the revised gift agreement was the establishment of one full-time program manager for the Phillips Ambassadors Program. Within the SAO, the Phillips Ambassadors Program had only one part-time employee. Offering the existing program manager a full-time position (with benefits) reduced some of the money available for scholarships. Fewer scholarships were offered after the transition from the SAO to the CAC because of this. The Phillips family realized that the job of managing the Phillips Ambassadors Program was more than a 20-hour a week job and felt it a priority to adequately compensate the person serving in that role in the interest of keeping a person in that job for a sustained period of time.

Along with the transition of the program from the SAO to the CAC, the program manager, who initially reported to the Asia Programs Director in the Study Abroad Office, now reported to the director of the Carolina Asia Center. As a high profile, flagship program in the SAO, the departure of the Phillips Ambassadors Program was not viewed as a particularly favorable or welcome change for the SAO. In the interest of necessary communication and friendly relations between the SAO and the CAC – and mindful of the inherent overlap between the Phillips Ambassadors Program and the Study Abroad Office (Phillips Ambassadors scholarship recipients participate in study abroad programs through the SAO) — the director of the SAO was invited to join the Phillips Ambassadors Advisory Board, chaired by Phil Phillips.

The physical location of the Phillips Ambassadors Program has long been fraught. Initially, the Phillips Ambassadors Program was placed in a back room of the old Arts & Sciences Foundation office on Franklin Street with a desk borrowed from the Phillips family and a computer and printer purchased by the SAO. When the Arts & Sciences Foundation needed more office space for their staff, the SAO carved out a small office for the Phillips Ambassadors Program within the SAO suite (aka “the fishbowl”) in the Global Education Center (GEC). Although the official administrative transition of the Phillips Ambassadors Program from the SAO to the CAC occurred in fall 2013, the Phillips Ambassadors office remained in the “fishbowl” on the second floor of the GEC until spring 2014, when an office space on the 3rd floor of the GEC near the CAC became available. The Phillips family has never been completely satisfied by the location and size of the office for the Phillips Ambassadors Program, although they are pleased with the program being in the GEC.

In short, transition of the Phillips Ambassadors Program from the SAO to the CAC has afforded the program greater autonomy, the vision the CAC, and given the program manager a voice in programmatic decisions, all of which were among initial reasons for the transition. The full transition took about a year to execute and there remains a dotted line between the Phillips Ambassadors Program and the SAO.

Director, 2013-2019

By Morgan Pitelka

In the spring of 2013, I had the opportunity to assume the role of Director of the CAC. I had previously worked as Chair of the Department of Asian Studies at Occidental College and as Director of the Triangle Center for Japanese Studies, which I had co-founded with Simon Partner of Duke University and David Ambaras of North Carolina State University. My immediate goals as Director were to secure further funding for the CAC and to expand its mandate to cover more of Asia and to work with more groups on and off campus. With the announcement of the departure of Stephanie Nelson from the post of Associate Director, I also had to hire a new Associate Director and work to make that position full-time.

In the summer of 2013, I visited the International and Foreign Language Education office, part of the U.S. Department of Education, to learn more about Title VI grant funding for National Resource Centers (NRCs) and Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships. I also began working with UNC’s Office of Global Development on identifying potential donors who might be interested in supporting the expansion of our Asia-related programs. Around this time I also started conversations with Ambassador Earl “Phil” Phillips and his wife Kim Glenn Phillips about ways for the CAC to work more closely with the Phillips Ambassadors Program.

In the fall of 2013, I was lucky to hire Thupten Norbu as Associate Director, and together we embarked on a comprehensive strategic planning process drawing on his previous experience working in the field of international development. Within one year, we had successfully won UNC’s first Title VI grant for the CAC as a National Resource Center for the Study of Asia (with FLAS), worth nearly $2 million over four years; and we had become the new home of the Phillips Ambassadors Program, with an endowment of $5 million. This growth allowed us to add two new full-time staff positions, and we hired Brittany Darst as our first Program Associate, responsible for communications, event planning, and outreach support; and Janet Walters as a program manager, who administered the complex and always developing Phillips program. We also hired a part-time Outreach Associate to work with K-12 teachers.

These new programs became the two main pillars of the CAC, and allowed us to work more closely with undergrads; to fund faculty working groups in all regions of Asia; to sponsor outreach programs through the Phillips “give-back” requirement and also through direct funding for K-12 teacher workshops; and to collaborate with a whole range of units on and off campus interested in global education related to Asia. Both programs were extremely successful. Our Title VI funding let us form close partnerships with HBCUs such as Winston Salem State University and UNC Central, and the number and quality of Phillips Ambassador applicants went up year after year. In 2016-2017, I wrote a proposal to the Phillips family requesting a major gift as part of the soon-to-launch capital campaign, and after presenting this proposal to the Phillips with then-Dean Kevin Guskiewicz, we were gratified and honored when the family decided to double the size of the Phillips endowment with a legacy gift of $5 million.

In 2017 I hired a new manager for the Phillips Ambassadors Program, Dori Brady, and a new Program Associate, Shuyi Lin, and a new Associate Director, Mary Lagdameo, all of whom brought extensive experience in the fields of Asian Studies and university administration to their new roles. We set out to finish the 4-year Title VI grant in style, building new collaborations with Durham Tech, a nearby community college, with the Carolina Performing Arts program, and with the Ackland Art Museum. Mary and I also dedicated ourselves to writing a new application for another 4 years of Title VI funding. We found out in the summer of 2018 that our funding application was successful, bringing another $2 million to UNC for students studying Asian languages through the FLAS program and to Asian studies programming, outreach, and administration.

A few other new developments that occurred during my time in the CAC include the co-founding and launch of the Southern Mix project, dedicated to collecting Asian and Asian American oral histories for the university’s flagship Southern Oral History Program. I helped create this project with Rhesa Versola, a UNC alumna, and Rachel Seidman, Director of the SOHP. Similarly, I worked closely with Dr. Becky Butler, a linguist with expertise in SE Asia, and two graduate students in Linguistics—Jen Boehm and Amy Reynolds—on a collaboration with Transplanting Tradition, a refugee-run community farm, on an oral history project funded by the Humanities for the Public Good program here at UNC. Additionally, I worked with Senior Associate Dean Jonathan Hartlyn, Professor Carl Ernst, and Daniel Lebold, Director of Global Development, to create a strategic plan and fundraising campaign for engagement with India called the Modern Indian Studies Initiative. In partnership with Swadesh Chatterjee, we worked closely with members of the local Indian American community to chart a path for fundraising and program growth at the university. The Modern Indian Studies Initiative is now administered out of UNC Global. Another exciting new development was the launch in 2019 of the Phillips Summer in Shanghai, a partnership with NYU Shanghai.

Serving as CAC Director was the opportunity of a lifetime and I learned so much from all of my teammates at the CAC and from my peers across the FedEx Global Education Center.

Associate Director, 2017-2019

Mary Lagdameo came to the Carolina Asia Center in September of 2017 after working for several years at Duke University. With a Master’s in East Asian Area Studies from the University of Southern California and an Asian-American herself, Lagdameo was excited to enter a role that would fulfill both her personal and academic interests.

Following her predecessor’s lead, Lagdameo executed numerous Title VI-related projects and programs, including the Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowship, and wrapped up the fourth year of the grant with the CAC team. Some highlights of Lagdameo’s first year include organizing a screening of Documented (2013) for Global Spotlight Week, traveling with NC educators to three cities in China as part of the World View China Global Study Visit, and co-writing the Title VI grant application for 2019-2022. Upon learning that the grant application was successful, Lagdameo continued to aspire to grow CAC program activities and events for years 2-4 of the grant.