With the development of the Hyundai and Kia manufacturing plants along the I-85 corridor near Auburn, and approximately 100 first and second tier parts suppliers, this industry now employs 30,000 people. It is estimated that our area is home to approximately 10,000 Koreans.
In an effort to bridge the cultural, communication, and knowledge gap between native Alabamians and the new Korean communities, Dr. Suhyun Suh has been awarded a two-year Title VI grant from the United States Department of Education to develop an undergraduate Korean Studies and Language program at Auburn University. Suh, an Associate Professor in Special Education, Rehabilitation, and Counseling, will work closely on the grant with co-PI Dr. Andrew Gillespie, Assistant Provost for International Programs at Auburn University. Dr. Gillespie’s Office of International Programs will have major involvement in developing the initiative.
“We envision the program encompassing a number of activities,” Gillespie said. “We already teach non-credit Korean language courses, and have now begun teaching these courses for credit.”
The United States government has deemed Korean as a “critical” language because of its strategic importance in fostering national security and economic development.
“But this effort is about much more than language studies,” Gillespie added. “Our goal is to develop a minor in allied Korean studies. In addition to the courses now in Foreign Languages and the College of Education, we plan to develop courses with a Korean component in the Colleges of Liberal Arts, Agriculture, Business, and Human Sciences.”
The goal is for the Korean Studies minor to be in place by the end of the two-year grant, and eventually include overseas education and internship opportunities for Auburn students.
“This initiative would be mostly on our campus here in Auburn,” Suh said. “We have so many opportunities to build upon the many good efforts we find around campus. We want to create a synergy and build something bigger than the individual program. It would be unique to us because of the presence of these industries and having so many Koreans in our area. Also, there are few if any programs like this in the South.”
The College of Education has already incorporated aspects of the program into its courses and outreach efforts. Starting in the summer of 2014, all students in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching began taking ESOL-infused literacy classes. Many Korean students are enrolled in Auburn City Schools, where our pre-service teachers gain experience. The College’s Summer Enrichment programs include many Korean children and help Auburn’s pre-service teachers engage emerging bilingual children through “total physical response” learning techniques.
And these multicultural connections have been beneficial to the Summer Enrichment Program in other ways. Following last summer’s program, PowerTech America Inc., a unit of Seosan, Korea-based Hyundai PowerTech gave $40,000 for new furnishings and materials. Among other things, the PowerTech funds allowed the program to purchase high-end sand and water tables, art easels and supplies, and many other tools that are necessities for high-quality early learning environments.
“We host a big Korean Festival in the fall that is raising cultural awareness around campus,” Suh said. “This summer Dr. Randy Pipes and I also accompanied six of our students in Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology on a trip to South Korea as part of our new Global Studies South Korea Initiative. The purpose of this program is to enable participants to expand their international perspectives on critical counseling and educational issues and to enhance cross-cultural research competencies in a graduate course.”
Both Suh and Gillespie feel there are many more opportunities in interdisciplinary settings across the Auburn campus. Gillespie feels this is just the beginning.
“I really feel we are on the verge of something very special, as we take advantage of this unique cultural opportunity that is doing so much to help our area.”