Ian Tyson Speaks Chinese

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Honors student learns Chinese, studies and teaches in mainland China.

Ian Tyson speaks Chinese. But he never expected to.

In fact, Tyson hadn’t even considered learning Chinese prior to enrolling at Rowan when, while consulting with his freshman year advisor, History Professor William D. Carrigan, he discovered an opportunity.

“He mentioned the languages we all study in high school – French, Spanish, German – and said I could continue them here if I wanted or I could try something different, something really challenging, like Russian or Chinese,” recalled Tyson, 21. “So I thought, let’s try something different. Let’s try Chinese!”

Not only did Tyson, a graduating senior from Barrington, try Chinese, he excelled at it. He took two Chinese language courses at Rowan, became a history major and pursued three concentrations: International Studies, East Asian Studies and the Thomas N. Bantivoglio Honors program.

And he did it all with a nearly perfect 3.9 GPA.

Tyson became so taken with the Chinese culture that he produced a 27-page research paper on the politically charged development of Philadelphia’s Vine Street Expressway (which bisects the city’s Chinatown district) and spent half of his junior year living abroad – learning and teaching English in the ancient but robust city of Nanjing.

While in Nanjing he gained experience teaching in a classroom setting and at students’ homes.

“The Chinese people were very friendly and open,” he said. “One time my professor and I spent a whole day with a family of one of my students. It was great, but kind of strange. You just wouldn’t expect that here.”

Tyson hopes to return to China this summer and has applied for a scholarship through the Chinese government to continue his study of the culture and the Mandarin language. He’s considering a variety of career choices including work with the federal government or in higher education or business but is certain a graduate degree will come first.

With Honors

Dr. Carrigan, who wrote a letter in support of Tyson’s scholarship application with the Chinese government, said Tyson was an ideal honors student who, at his urging, ran for and became president of the Student History Association.

“Ian also won the Marius Livingston scholarship, an award given to our most promising junior history major, and this year received the Dean’s Senior Recognition Award for his accomplishments,” Dr. Carrigan said. “We have over 500 history majors, so these awards are quite an accomplishment.”

He described the eight-class honors sequence as a rigorous course of study in which Rowan students of all majors have an almost graduate-level learning experience.

“Because you’re taking courses oftentimes outside your discipline it can make it more challenging,” Dr. Carrigan said. “I, for example, teach a class jointly with biology Professor Luke Holbrook – History, Biology and the State of Human Society. The main text is written by an evolutionary biologist asking historical questions. There are several thousand pages of required reading for that class plus a research paper and the final project can be either biological or historical.”

Honors coordinator Dr. Ieva Zake said the eight-course track – four interdisciplinary and four discipline-specific – was designed to bolster the Rowan educational experience for academically gifted, curious and high-achieving students.

“The courses are proposed by faculty members who come up with interesting and unique classes and those proposals are reviewed and approved by the Honors board,” said Dr. Zake (pronounced ZAH-keh).

“The main question the board always asks is how is this class different, how will it be a unique experience?," she said. "The students have to read more, they have to write more, but they have more enhanced experiences.”

The Honors sequence does not add to required credit hours; courses contained within it meet general education and major-specific requirements.

Dr. Zake said the classes are tougher but students completing them generally find the extra work worth it. And, she said, the program, which began at Rowan in 1989, helps students become well-rounded and ready to influence society.

“This is a training ground for future leaders and there are three components within the concentration to help our students become them,” she said.

In addition to the Honors course requirements there is a requirement for an extracurricular activity of the student’s choice, 14 hours of Honors Recommended Activities per semester (guest lectures, concerts, trips, etc.), and a service component – 14 hours of time donated to a cause, person or organization.

"It’s a well-balanced program,” Dr. Zake said. “Our students want the academic component on a higher level but we also want them to be a part of the Rowan community. And we think it works.”

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