Asia on E Street: The Sigur Center for Asian Studies
The Elliott School's Sigur Center for Asian Studies has enhanced its reputation as a leading institution for scholarship on Asia with several exciting research projects and initiatives, including the Rising Powers Initiative, India Initiative, and Friends of Korea Studies program. These projects, in addition to the school's strong emphasis on student scholarship, have fostered an influential Asian studies community within the Elliott School, across GW's campus, and around the world.
Eye on the Rising Powers
Launched in fall 2009, the Sigur Center's Rising Powers Initiative focuses research efforts on the internal forces at play within a number of critical aspiring powers, including China, India, Japan, South Korea, ASEAN, Iran, and Russia. The initiative — which has quickly earned a name for itself due to innovative scholarship and policy analysis — examines the foreign policy discussions within each country, placing significant emphasis on how they will affect U.S. leadership in the future. Major funding for the project is provided by the MacArthur and Carnegie Foundations.
"Our objective is to understand the debates and thinking that is going on within these powers about their rising international importance," said Deepa Ollapally, director of the Elliott School's India Initiative and associate director of the Sigur Center. "There is no unified view in most cases and the debates are often contentious. We think U.S. policymakers need to pay close attention to the internal views in these countries, something that is all too often overlooked. So our audience is twofold: the scholarly community as well as the policy world."
Toward this end, the Rising Powers Initiative has held conferences and seminars in capitals around the world, including Washington, Beijing, New Delhi, and Moscow. The most recent conference in New Delhi, which was held this February with the support of a generous MacArthur Foundation grant, featured prominent experts from both the United States and India exploring issues of identity in Asia — for example the consequences of a divided Korea and the implications of Japan's identity as a peace state.
"Our events in New Delhi were highly successful in furthering our research because there is no better way to refine our work than getting critique and feedback from excellent outside experts while it is still a work in progress," Professor Ollapally said. "It is a great reality check."
Building a Community around Student Research and Involvement
Students involved with the Sigur Center have also been productive. Inaugurated by the center in fall 2010, the Organization of Asian Studies (OAS) has had a busy first year. This graduate and undergraduate student organization focuses on strengthening ties between students and faculty through ambitious programming and events, all made possible by the financial support of the Sigur Center. OAS holds a series of student lunches with faculty and visiting scholars to facilitate more informal interaction between the groups, as well as monthly social gatherings and a weekly Asian film series for all graduate and undergraduate students. At the end of March, OAS held a week-long Asian film festival, featuring films from Singapore, Thailand, Mongolia, Japan, and India.
Since 2006, the Sigur Center has provided more than $1 million in grants to 105 graduate and undergraduate students at the Elliott School. This funding supports the study of Asian languages abroad, field research, student internships, and the presentation of original research at conferences.
Grants from the center will aid Elliott School senior Sarah Tynan (B.A. '11) as she travels to a conference in Sydney, Australia, this Spring to present her original research, as well as junior Caleb Dependahl (B.A. '12) as he studies intensive Korean at Sogang University in Seoul for ten weeks this summer, among many others.
Sigur Center director Shawn McHale emphasized, "We only wish that we could fund all of our exceptional students as they carry out research and intensive language study in Asia."
In Support of Japan
The Sigur Center's recent event, After the Earthquake & Tsunami: Japan's Nuclear, Economic, & Political Challenges, featured several GW faculty experts as well as Professor Ollapally, discussing the disaster response and challenges ahead for Japan. This event is a part of the Elliott School's Web Video Initiative.
The center has also been actively supporting the efforts of the Japanese American Student Union of D.C., an intercollegiate organization comprised of Japanese American Student Alliances of the seven Washington, D.C. universities, of which Elliott School sophomore Kazu Koyama (B.A. '13) is the president. To learn more about relief efforts in Japan, as well as other Sigur Center projects and initiatives, you can visit the Sigur Center's blog Asia on E Street.
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