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New Chinese program serves North, Southeast Portland
Photos and Story by James Hill
A new credit Chinese culture and language program at Portland Community College is growing not only in student enrollment, but also by locations.
Due to interest in Chinese culture and its languages, the college has expanded its offerings at the Cascade Campus (705 N. Killingsworth St.) and has added courses at the Southeast Center (2305 S.E. 82nd Ave.). Developed in 2009 to meet demand, the program has an introductory course to China’s vast culture and first- and second-year Mandarin classes at Cascade and 101-level Mandarin at Southeast.
“It’s hard to ignore China and it’s logical for us to do this,” said Nancy Wessel, division dean of Liberal Arts and Pre-College Education at the Cascade Campus. “PCC has never had credit Chinese classes at any campus so we were interested in being the first ones to do that for a variety of reasons – it’s an important language, of course, and we also had a grant program where some of the business faculty were going to China. It seemed like a logical moment to start.”
Wessel said there is growing interest in Asian studies, especially with the internationalization of programs and classes at PCC. For the past decade, the college faculty and staff have been traveling on cultural exchanges all over the world, including recent Fulbright Teaching Fellowship recipients to India and France, returning to apply what they have learned into their curriculum. In addition, local high schools have Chinese language programs that the PCC program can tap into.
“We are starting to try to reach out to the high schools that have the Chinese language classes so they can move smoothly over here into the second-year level,” Wessel added.
Thanks to the program’s only instructor Hsiao-Yun Shotwell, the credit from these courses can be transferred to universities.
“The courses are designed to match with PSU’s curriculum so we use same textbooks and same teaching hours,” said Shotwell, who started teaching Chinese language classes at PSU before joining PCC several years ago. “Everything will match up with PSU and if students want to transfer to Oregon State or the University of Oregon, they can transfer all of the courses to them as well.”
The first-year courses fill up quickly and contain between 25 and 30 students per class for a total of almost 60 first-year language students. Eli Patton, 28, of Northwest Portland is one of these students. A graduate of Missouri Southern State and survivor of the Joplin tornado, Patton came to Oregon to be closer to family. The web development major wants to transfer to PSU with a degree in Mandarin to accent his computer science work because of the significance of China in his field.
“I heard some good things about the program so I wanted to start here,” Patton said. “It’s a very diverse group of students and half of them are non-traditional: there are high school students, a girl that is 15 years old and Asian American students that want to speak the language and learn their own culture. There are a lot of students in their thirties, forties and fifties, too.”
Patton is involved with the new Chinese club where 26 students in the language and culture classes can meet off campus to discuss their homework and provide a needed support structure. Because of the challenging nature of learning Mandarin, he said it pulls everyone together into a tight-knit group of students.
“It’s difficult because you need to study every day,” he said. “But it’s a really engaging community.”