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Welcome, Dr. Sophia Geng! Bringing Chinese culture to SVC

By Elizabeth Van Pilsum, Arts and Culture Editor

Originally Published January 30, 2024

This past August, Saint Vincent College (SVC) welcomed Dr. Sophia Geng to campus. Geng is the new Chair Professor of China Studies and the Director of the James and Margaret Tseng Loe Center for China Studies, which is a two-fold position that involves scholarly and teaching duties as well as administrative and organizational duties.

Geng received her B.A. from Shandong Teacher’s University in Ji’nan, China, and she achieved her M.A. at Beijing Foreign Studies University. In 2001, she moved to America to pursue a Ph.D. in American studies, which she achieved at the University of Minnesota. Her studies largely concentrated on the diaspora across the Pacific Ocean and history and culture of the Asian American community.

Geng was always interested in being a professor. Her first teaching job was at Saint John’s University in Minnesota, which is a daughter school of SVC. “I feel the transition to Saint Vincent was a vocational call,” Geng said.

“SVC has a very special connection with China,” Geng said. “In the 1920s, members of the Saint Vincent community established Peking Catholic University (Fu Jen University), which contributed greatly to China’s modern higher education. Since then, generations of Saint Vincent people have devoted their talents and energy to better understanding between the American and Chinese people. I see my vocation at Saint Vincent a continuation of this noble effort.”

Now that she is at SVC, Geng’s goal is to open new horizons for students by exposing them to a different culture. This semester, Geng is teaching a class about Chinese and Chinese American folklore.

“We look at both traditional folktales, myths and legends but also talk about their evolvements over history and their connections to our life today as a way for our students to think about their place in the 21st century world and be exposed to other ways of life,” Geng said.

She explained that the class utilizes digital storytelling techniques to get connected with different American populations. She also assigns the students to interview an elder and talk about traditional American values, and to reach out to an Asian American friend or family member and talk about what it means to be an American in our time and place.

In addition to broadening students’ horizons through class, Geng is hoping to introduce as many students as possible to Chinese culture through her role as Director of the Loe Center. She is planning a jewelry making event, a Chinese calligraphy workshop, and storytelling events. The event she is most focused on now is the Lunar Chinese New Year celebration planned for the end of February. The Loe Center is organizing the event with Campus Life, the Department of Language and Cultures, and the School of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. Geng has also invited club presidents to be involved and she is hopeful that many students will participate in the festivities.

The celebration will involve multiple different components, such as a Lunar New Year themed dinner at the community center, which is tentatively scheduled for February 16. There will also be activity tables in the Carey lounge featuring mahjong, paper cutting, paper folding, calligraphy writing, and more. Finally, there will also be a performing aspect of the celebration, possibly on February 24. Geng is inviting students, faculty, staff, and friends of the SVC community to perform in whatever art form they wish, such as singing, dancing, spoken word poetry, and poem recitation.

Geng is hopeful that her efforts to introduce Chinese culture to SVC will be impactful.

“SVC is a wonderful community that has a lot to offer,” Geng said. “SVC has always had a vision that’s beyond Westmoreland County and Pennsylvania, and that has contributed to our growth in the past and will lead us to a better future. International education is an essential, indispensable piece of education, and I think the Loe Center will play a positive and important role in that envisioned future.”

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