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U.S. gives $2.88 million to Cal State’s strategic language initiative

February 11, 2010 |  3:25 pm

The U.S. government has awarded $2.88 million to a California State University program that trains students in Arabic, Persian, Russian and other languages that are considered critical to national security, commerce and cultural understanding.

The funding is part of a defense spending bill recently signed by President Obama.  Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) as well as U.S. Reps. Laura Richardson, Ed Royce and Diane Watson helped solicit the funds for the Strategic Language Initiative, which operates on five CSU campuses, each focusing on a different language

They include Cal State Long Beach (Mandarin Chinese), Cal State Fullerton (Persian), Cal State L.A. (Korean), Cal State Northridge (Russian) and Cal State San Bernardino (Arabic). The new money will help expand the program this year to San Francisco State (Mandarin Chinese) and San Jose State (Arabic).

"Usually, most students in language programs are pursuing teaching, literature or linguistics," said KimOanh Nguyen-Lam said, the initiative’s executive director. "Our goal is to graduate a large number of students from all disciplines and majors who can then use the language to collaborate with professionals from different regions of the world."

Since its creation in 2006 on the Long Beach campus, more than 250 students have graduated from the intensive, 18-month courses, which are integrated with academic majors geared to jobs in defense, intelligence, diplomatic and business fields. Students can also study abroad with some doing fieldwork and interning in local businesses and industries.

Nguyen-Lam said one unique feature of the program is that students are able to acquire in only a few months language skills that would normally take three to six years. Among graduates, two Mandarin majors were offered positions in Chinese companies, said Nguyen-Lam, and a graduate studying in Amman, Jordan, was offered a job at a law firm there.

The program, which uses classroom and online instruction, is open to Cal State students at all 23 campuses as well as students from the University of California, community colleges and private schools.

-- Carla Rivera