Freeman Grant opens door to Asian studies
The Freeman Foundation donates money to Bowdoin College's Asian Studies department for student and faculty travel, visiting lecturers, performing arts, and faculty tenures.
In 2002, the Freeman Foundation invited 300 schools to compete for some of its largest grants. Because of its previous commitment to Asian Studies and a growing department, Bowdoin received one of the largest grants totaling $1.67 million.
The school received its first Freeman grant in 1996 for $340,000. At that time, the Asian Studies department had just started and had only three faculty members.
Now largely because of the help of the Freeman Foundation, Bowdoin's Asian Studies department is one of the most well-known in the country and has quadrupled in size to 12 faculty members. The most recent grant has allowed the department to hire De-nin Lee, an Asian Art professor. The Luce Foundation also currently supports one faculty position in the Asian Studies department for a four year term. "Getting funds from these prestigious foundations really confirms the level of academic programs we have here at Bowdoin," said Marianne Jordan, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations.
Houghton Freeman, Director of the Freeman Foundation, was born in China and worked for the American International Group selling insurance in China for 40 years. When Mansfield died, Houghton set aside the money from his father's estate for the Freeman Foundation and the fund flourished. The money from the estate combined with money from his work with AIG, made Freeman one of the largest foundations for Asian Studies in the country.
The Freeman Foundation is run by Houghton, his wife, and two other employees. One of the employees, Hildy Simmons, helped introduce Robert Edwards, then President of Bowdoin, to Houghton Freeman.
Like most small liberal arts schools, it is hard for Bowdoin to have an extensive international relations department, so approximately 10 years ago Edwards decided that he wanted Asian Studies to be the premiere international studies program at Bowdoin. After meeting Freeman, Edwards helped develop a relationship between Bowdoin and the Foundation and landed a grant in 1996.
Each grant that the school receives lasts three years. Bowdoin received its second grant from Freeman in 2000 for $330,000. The first two grants assisted student and faculty traveling fellowships, a faculty bridge position, and a student traveling group. The school used the grant money to pay three years of salary and recruit Lance Guo, Chinese Language and Literature professor, to Bowdoin and then fundraised money to establish Guo as a permanent member of the faculty. The fund also supports Sociology and Anthropology professor Nancy Riley's group that travels to China for five weeks every summer. Bowdoin reported to the Freeman Foundation twice a year on how its money was being spent and because of its good work, it received the most recent grant.
Most of Bowdoin's fellow small schools received Freeman grants last year, but Bowdoin was among the largest grant recipients. Wesleyan University, Freeman's alma mater, receives the most money from the foundation.
Jordan has heard the Freeman grant explained as a "coming and going." "The coming refers to the fund's commitment to bringing Asian culture and students to Bowdoin. The going is about the fund's support of students going to Asia," Jordan said. She explained that the fund allowed Admissions officers to do more recruiting in Asia and give full scholarships to Bowdoin to two Chinese students. The students who were accepted as Freeman scholars were supposed to have arrived last year, but were denied visas. As of right now, one of them has received her visa and is expected to arrive on campus next fall.
The Freeman grant also brought Dean Jim Kim, the Assistant Dean of First Year Students and Freeman Grant Coordinator, to campus. After coming to Bowdoin in July, he has looked into faculty proposals for bringing Asian speakers and performers to Bowdoin. So far this year, he has helped organize the Indian dance performance and the Colloquium on Contemporary Korea. In November, the Dean of Harvard School of Design will come to Bowdoin to talk about Asian architecture. In addition, Kim is part of the five person faculty committee that chooses which students will receive a grant to travel to Asia over winter break or the summer.
The committee just received six applications for travel for this winter break. Students who wish to use the Freeman fund to travel must fill out a proposal that describes their program, and have a Bowdoin faculty member as an adviser, and a letter of recommendation from a Bowdoin professor. The committee looks for students who have come up with an extensive program that is based on some academic pursuit or research. The student doesn't need to be an Asian Studies major. The committee highly encourages students to use the grant to follow interests that that they can relate to Asia.
Elliott Wright '04 used the Freeman grant this past summer to travel to Tibet. After taking Kitter Smith's class on the history of Tibet, Wright knew he wanted to travel there. He received the funding and spent the summer teaching English and science to children at the Siddhartha School. This semester, Wright is doing an independent project with his summer experience about the education system in Tibet.
Wright's said his travel changed his life and helped him plan his future. When he graduates in May, Wright hopes to go on to the International Program of the Peace Corps where he would receive his masters in public health and then teach for two years in either Asia or Africa. Eventually he would like to be a National Geographic field correspondent.
Henry Laurence, Head of the Asian Studies department and member of the committee that reviews the Freeman proposals, said, "The Freeman grant is a real help to allow students who have demonstrated interest in any aspect of Asian Studies. If they want to pursue it and go to the next level, this allows them to have money and support."