Confucius Institute: Annie Ping Zeng

There is a bridge between China and Alaska in the Rasmuson Hall, behind the brightly lit glass doors of the Confucius Institute.

New CI Director Annie Ping Zeng is seeking to expand this bridge.

The bridge is not literal, of course. But the Confucius Institute serves as the university’s connection to Chinese culture and language, providing UAA students with Mandarin Chinese courses, Chinese painting workshops, prominent Chinese speakers, and the opportunity to travel to China over the summer. It also works with Anchorage K-12 schools to introduce Chinese to younger-aged kids, among other programs.

“The Confucius Institute here at UAA is strong,” Zeng said. “However, there are still several things we’re lacking.”

Already the assistant Professor of Chinese and one of only two professors to teach Chinese language courses at UAA, Zeng stepped into the role of UAA CI Director in August. She replaced Associate Professor of History Paul Dunscomb, who held the position part-time from UAA CI’s opening in September 2009. Zeng previously worked as a research associate at the CI at Michigan State University, where she directed a Chinese teacher certification program and taught several graduate courses.

“We tried to provide as many Chinese teachers as possible for the local schools,” said Zeng, referring to her time at Mich. State. “That really enriched their [Mich. State’s] outreach program, and I’d like to do the same thing here.”

This is what she says is missing in Alaska: certified Chinese professors.

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Zeng and adjunct professor Wan Yang are the only Chinese language professors at UAA. In addition, there are only three certified Chinese teachers in the entire Alaskan K-12 school system.

As such, the number of Chinese courses available, for both UAA and school systems statewide, is very limited. The supply does not meet the demand.

“There’re a bunch of students who are interested in taking Chinese courses,” said Haley Dampier, a 20-year-old International Studies major who works as Administrative Assistant for the UAA CI.

“We hope to give students who have the passion to learn Chinese the opportunities they’re looking for,” Zeng said. “But in order to do that, we need the faculty.”

Zeng has a plan. UAA’s sister school in China is Northeast Normal University, in Changchun, Jilin Province, which has been working together with UAA to provide the Chinese programs and promote cultural exchange. The cooperation has been “okay, but not very satisfactory,” Zeng said. She would like to reestablish and deepen connections with Normal, and eventually use the Chinese faculty at Normal to teach classes here at UAA through the Chinese teacher certification program.

This teacher certification program works by training teachers directly from China, who graduated from a Chinese major, or taught Chinese as a foreign language. These teachers are recruited from China, brought to the university to be trained, and given a teaching certificate for K-12 schools and UAA.

Zeng also plans to expand UAA’s Chinese programs. Chinese 101 and Chinese 102 are the only Chinese courses offered at UAA. Zeng is seeking to establish a minor program, at least initially. Within two years she’d like to offer more Chinese courses, beginning with teaching 201 and 202 herself in the spring and fall of 2012.

In addition to utilizing the certification program to recruit professors from China, Zeng would also like to train local teachers as a home base to draw from. She has contacted the School of Education to initiate such a program for the future.

With these changes, the UAA CI will be able to provide an even greater Chinese presence at the university and to Anchorage K-12 schools as well. By renovating the bridge already established between The People’s Republic and the Last Frontier, Zeng will leave a lasting legacy of cultural cooperation.