Roaring Forward at 40
Renowned East Asian Studies Program Celebrates Four Decades During the Year of the Tiger
Kerry Dumbaugh ’74 had just transferred to Wittenberg from a music school and was “shopping around” for inspirational classes when she stumbled upon a class with Eugene Swanger, founder of the East Asian Studies Program and professor emeritus of religion. Captivated by the subject and his teaching, Dumbaugh ceased her search immediately.
“That course opened my eyes to a whole new world,” she says. “And it changed my life.” From that first class, she took another then another then another, until she was studying Chinese and well on her way to declaring a double major in East Asian Studies and music. Exposure to this emerging field lit a fire in
Dumbaugh, and she never looked back. Going on to a distinguished career in Washington, she remains a recognized expert in her field, working for 25 years at the Congressional Research Service – the non-partisan research arm of Congress – as an East Asian specialist. There she wrote papers advising members of Congress on policy decisions – a task she likened to being a one-person debate team outlining the pros and cons of a policy course.
“It was a perfect f it for me and my background – an ideal place to use what I had studied all those years at Wittenberg and in graduate school,” she says. “And it was all thanks to Wittenberg that I discovered this fascinating field and career.”
Ahead of Its Time
When Dumbaugh came to Wittenberg, the East Asian Studies program was in its infancy, and its very existence was exceptional. In 1970 when Swanger founded the program, only three to four percent of liberal arts schools had such a program. With Swanger’s foresight and persistence, the program quickly grew thanks to his hard work and that of his newly hired distinguished colleagues, Professor of Languages Stanley Mickel and Professor of History James Huffman.
“[N]ot only did they have the idea, but they went for grants to expand the program, added many cultural events, and also pushed themselves to learn and teach about East Asia, not just for their own expertise,” says Jennifer Oldstone-Moore, the program’s current director. “Thus you had Stan Mickel, language professor and expert on Chinese oracle bones (c. 1300 BC), teaching about modern Japan in EAS 100.”
Still considered one of the preeminent programs in the nation, independent reviewers have called the program “one of the major intellectual assets that defines Wittenberg’s uniqueness in the liberal arts.” Few liberal arts schools of Wittenberg’s size, they added, provide such an extended and deep encounter with non-Western civilizations.
Today, as the program celebrates 40 years, it is clear that what was true then continues to be true now. As one of the largest interdisciplinary programs at Wittenberg, the current roster of EAS faculty stands at 15 and includes professors of history, religion, Chinese, Japanese, psychology, economics, geography, dance and political science. In particular, Wittenberg distinguishes itself from similar programs at other schools with its rigorous language requirements and in-depth focus and faculty expertise in both China and Japan studies. And Wittenberg hopes to create Chinese and Japanese language majors, a move that will solidify the strength of the EAS program, which has also garnered significant funding throughout its history, including a $2 million grant from the Freeman Foundation to broaden the scope and reach of Asian studies throughout
“Wittenberg offers great breadth and depth of coverage within the program,” Oldstone-Moore says. “Few peer schools, for example, offer Chinese and Japanese language for all four years as Wittenberg does.”
More than 450 students have graduated with East Asian Studies degrees and have gone on to do just about anything. Many attend top graduate schools and teach at universities while others go into law, business, environmental science, social work, government and journalism. The degree opens up a world of possibilities as Dumbaugh and hundreds of her fellow program alumni have learned. “Asia is where so much of the future is,” she says.
Breaking New Ground
In the tradition of innovation and excellence that has defined the East Asian Studies program for 40 years, Wittenberg continues to advance in the field, launching its first-ever East Asian Institute this academic year to connect students with internships and experts outside the university. Building on the success of the academic program and in keeping with Wittenberg’s commitment to collaborative learning, the institute is working to expand opportunities for students by bringing in an international business focus to the program.
The institute has already hit the ground running, sponsoring an alumni mentoring program, executive luncheons and an Executive-in- Residence program, which will bring Toshikata Amino, former vice president of Honda of America Manufacturing Inc. to campus. These programs aim to provide
students with everything from informal advice to career ideas.
“We want to provide students with real experiential learning opportunities. The Institute’s East Asian Business Fellow program, for example, is providing $50,000 in grant money to help place students in internships abroad and nationally,” says Erick Kish, director of the institute. “Providing chances for career exploration is an important part of what we want to do for students.”
That is what Kerry Dumbaugh hopes to help with in her new role as the institute’s first Senior Fellow. By leveraging her extensive Washington, D.C. contacts to bring speakers to campus who will inspire a range of students, not just East Asian Studies majors, she hopes to expand horizons. Nearly everyone, she stresses, can benefit from a better understanding of East Asia.
“With so much interaction now between the United States and Asia in so many fields – from climate change to business to global health issues – it is vital to be connected to what is happening there,” she says.
Her own experience and success make her a tremendous asset to the institute and the university as a whole. With her enthusiasm for the field and her commitment to “giving back to Wittenberg what it gave to me,” she, like other alumni mentors, will serve as a great model for students and a door to opportunity.
Of course, like so many courses of study at Wittenberg, the benefit of an East Asian Studies degree goes well beyond finding the perfect career. The interdisciplinary nature of the degree gives students a broad, “bigger picture” perspective, while the simple act of studying another culture
helps students acquire a better understanding of their own.
As the program notes on its website, “Wittenberg East Asian Studies students connect across the Pacific with skill and confidence. As the world economy continues to bind East and West into a global community, these students are there to make it happen and to make a difference.”