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Mills language department earns first ever language grant

The languages department recently received its first grant since Mills first began offering language courses in 1929. The grant will be used to fund both a new Chinese course and immersion opportunities for Spanish, French and Chinese both locally and abroad over the next academic year.

The grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation totals $100,000 and must be dispersed by the end of spring 2016 semester. The administration and language department faculty are working to strengthen the department with new programs for students including on campus language dinners, visits to local senior centers and a hybrid Chinese class with an extra online component.

“We are excited about the grant,” language department head Brinda Mehta said in an email. “We are at the early stages of implementation and look forward to the fruition of our projects.”

According to acting Provost David Donahue, the hybrid Chinese course would include regular class time and an online portion of the course. He said there often is not enough time in the classroom and having an online portion will help students excel.

Suggested use of the grant money for the hybrid Chinese course has gotten a mixed response from students studying Chinese. 

Juanita Hernandez-Ramirez, a junior studying Chinese, said the idea of a hybrid class sounds helpful.

“Having a hybrid Chinese program, I believe, would be a huge asset because we can only cover so much in class and the extra practice will be beneficial in helping us get a better grasp on our understanding of the language,”  Hernandez-Ramirez said in an email.

However, junior Sophie MacArthur is concerned about the online learning.

“While online courses do have their merits, for language classes it is better to have class in an actual classroom,”  MacArthur said in an email. 

The grant does have limitations as to what can be paid for, according to Donahue. A portion of the grant money will go to scholarships to help students spend time abroad, though the amount available has not yet been determined.

On-campus immersion dinners, Donahue says, will help students to use their knowledge in a more realistic setting. Similarly, visits to local senior centers will give students the chance to improve their language skills by reading and talking with people who do not speak English.

While students can see the short term benefits of the grant, many are concerned about the future. The grant also does not address the problems the department faces such as class sizes and not enough upper division classes. 

Students in the language departments are concerned that the Mills class size minimums will force classes to be canceled because often less than ten students sign up. Students studying Chinese also wish that there were classes dedicated to the culture and the literature which would give them a more comprehensive understanding of the language.

“If Mills is unwilling to offer any classes in Chinese culture or literature, and won’t allow the advanced Mandarin classes to be smaller than ten people, then no amount of money is going to help us,” international relations major Charlotte DePersis said. 

According to Donahue, the grant is a way of setting programs in motion. At the moment only classes in French, Spanish and Chinese are offered and there are not enough classes to support a Chinese minor, or a French major without studying abroad. Students hope that other languages will be offered such as German and Russian. The hope among students and faculty is that between more grants and the college choosing to fund these new programs, the department will grow.  

“The Mellon grant is a step in the right direction, and we hope it leads to more grants in the future,” Mehta said.