A Year of Growth and Transitions: A Word from South Asia Center Director Lisa Mitchell

After four good years as Director of Penn's South Asia Center, I will be stepping down at the end of June to focus on graduate student training and my own research program.  I have enjoyed the challenges of working to expand intellectual engagements with South Asia, both at Penn and within the wider community, even in the face of increasing uncertainty regarding the availability of federal funding.  I am particularly pleased at the new programs we've been able to develop for undergraduate students and at the growth of our Affiliated Faculty Program for South Asia faculty at area institutions.

The Center's successful new C.U. in India and Southeast Asia program (begun in Fall 2014), which offers hybrid domestic/oversees courses with short-term travel abroad components, is now gearing up for its fourth year, with three new courses slated for 2017-18.  Alumni of these courses have gone on to receive Fulbright fellowships, do internships abroad, and engage further with South and Southeast Asia.  We have established a strong Alumni Initiative (begun in Fall 2014) that has resulted in new alumni support and a new South Asia Alumni Mentorship Program (begun in Fall 2015).  We’ve also inaugurated a STEM in South Asia Initiative (begun in Fall 2014), the Pulitzer International Reporting Student Fellowship (launched in Spring 2015 in cooperation with Penn’s Middle East Center and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting), a new Faculty Works-in-Progress Seminar (piloted Fall 2016), a South Asian Digital Humanities Initiative (piloted Fall 2016), and a new Undergraduate South Asia Research Initiative (piloted Spring 2017) that has resulted in nine new undergraduate Summer Research Internship Placements in Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, and the Maldives (piloting Summer 2017).  Thirteen Penn undergraduates are heading to South Asia this summer as part of the Center’s inaugural cohort.  We have also organized an exciting World Heritage Sites and Cities Teacher Training Trip to India and Nepal for area K-16 teachers this coming summer, and have built active collaborations with Penn’s Graduate School of Education, Drexel University, the Community College of Philadelphia, and Cheyney University.

I am pleased to announce that the Deans have named Dr. Mark Lycett as the new Center Director, effective July 1, 2017.  Mark comes to Penn from the University of Chicago, where he was the Director of the Program on the Global Environment from 2007-2016, and Academic Director of Chicago's South Asian Civilization Quarter Abroad Program in Pune, India from 2002 to 2016.  He has also served as the Director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Chicago.  An archaeologist and environmental/ecological historian, Mark's research and teaching engagements with South Asia have included the Vijayanagara Metropolitan Survey (1988-1997) and work on landscape ecology, biodiversity, conservation, and the social lives of forests and forest products.  He currently co-directs two multi-year research projects (with Kathleen Morrison) on Biodiversity as a Social Process and a Computational Network Analysis of South Indian Inscriptional Data (the latter in conjunction with the CRESCAT group at the University of Chicago).

With the appointment of our new Assistant Director, Amelia Carter, last October, replacing Dr. Raili Roy, and our new Associate Director, Rachelle Faroul, in January, replacing 14-year South Asia Center veteran Jody Chavez in the wake of her promotion to the Deans office, this has clearly been a year of transitions.   Although we were sorry to say goodbye to Jody and Raili and are grateful for their many years of service, Rachelle and Amelia have also both brought exciting new ideas and energy to the Center.

Rachelle comes to us with a degree in Communication Studies from Northwestern University, extensive experience in administration and grant management (most recently with a major grant from the New York State Department of Health), and valuable skills in web development.  She has already been hard at work strengthening the Center’s engagement with Penn’s School of Engineering and the Graduate School of Education, and has been instrumental in conceptualizing a new C.U. in India course on Tech Innovation in India.

Amelia comes to us from Penn’s Middle East Center, where she served as Program Coordinator.  With Master’s degree specializations in Global Studies and Gender Studies, she brings with her extensive outreach experience with K-12 teachers, community colleges, Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the greater Philadelphia area, and previous experience working with our C.U. in India program.  In February, she traveled to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives to set up the Center’s new research internship placements for undergraduates, and will be visiting all of the sites again in late June, once all of our students are in place.

All of this news points to the growth of the South Asia Center in significant new directions.  Yet another sign of the Center’s growth is that we will also soon be hiring a new Program and Events Coordinator to help manage all of our new programs and activities, so stay tuned for more exciting news from the South Asia Center.