Living among students gives Chinese professor unique perspective

by Clare Gates, Staff Writer

Shao Zhenping may blend into the crowd drifting across campus from Saint Benedict Hall in the morning, but this smiling 23-year-old differs from the students who are making their way to Chinese class; she is the professor.

Shao, a graduate student of many talents, came from Wuhan University in China to Latrobe this past July. The Confucius Institute of Pittsburgh is responsible for this arrangement, just as it was responsible for providing Saint Vincent’s Chinese program with professors in the past. Ms. Shao came with the intention of gaining teaching experience and enjoying American culture, and in doing so, she has become a part of one of the fastest growing programs on campus.

Shao is well-qualified to teach Chinese in spite of her youth. “As a graduate student, my major is Chinese as a foreign language,” she said, “before that, my major was Chinese language and literature.”

Even though Shao has yet to write an article for her university in order to finish her degree, she is certified to teach and has teaching experience: she taught Chinese language and literature to fifty-two students at Wuhan Jiaotong Junior College in China for six months. She also volunteered at primary schools in China where she taught Chinese, English, and music. Shao even won first prize in the Chinese teacher selection test of Hanban from the National Ministry of Education.

Shao has also developed a variety of interests and talents – she enjoys folk dancing, classical dance, and she once led the Red Sun Art Troup of Huanggang City. She plays the Chinese zither, performs traditional tea ceremonies, and fondly recites ancient poetry. Shao is also a writer; she was an intern for the Xinhua Press and has published over ten articles. This professor has an air of quiet modesty about her, but she has a competitive spirit and has won prizes for these talents and more – she even received first prize in the 6th Challenge Cup Business Contest in Hubei Province.

Shao has incorporated some of her talents into the classes she teaches at SVC; she aims to introduce her students to Chinese culture as does Dr. Xiao Ying, another Chinese professor here from Wuhan University. Xiao was the only Chinese professor in the Language Department last year, but the program has expanded quickly. SVC first offered Elementary Chinese to only eight students during the Fall semester of 2002, and student interest has grown exponentially since. Consequently, SVC expanded the International Studies Minor three years later so that it currently includes Chinese as one of the options for concentration.

Dr. Doreen Blandino, chair of the language department, said, “in Fall 2009, we started to offer the minor in Chinese language and culture and we were recently approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education to offer teaching certification in Chinese K-12.” SVC is only one of two schools in Pennsylvania that offers this certification. There are currently 25 students in the Elementary Chinese class, 11 in the intermediate class, and 5 students studying at various advanced levels. Furthermore, SVC supports several East Asian cultural activities such as the East Asia Club, as well as the annual East Asia study tour.

Shao has a favorable opinion of the students in Saint Vincent’s Chinese program.

“I really like my students,” she said. “I think it will be a wonderful experience here. If there is a challenge, I think that it is to let my students love Chinese much more.”

Shao teaches Elementary Chinese, Reading Chinese, and co-teaches intermediate and advanced classes with Xiao. According to Jessica Turriziani, a junior education major in Shao’s elementary class, the young professor is “patient,” “encouraging,” and furthermore, “mixes up her styles of teaching so we don’t get bored. She doesn’t just lecture at us like a lot of professors do.”

When it comes to what Shao thinks about living in the same location where she teaches, she is pleased with her accommodations. Her current residence is Saint Benedict Hall, unlike Xiao, who lives in a Wimmerton Place apartment.

“I like the people here; they always say hello to you with a smile even if they don’t know you. I really feel welcome at Saint Vincent,” Shao remarked.

While Shao enjoys her work at present, her future plans are still uncertain. She is considering remaining at SVC to teach again next year because she enjoys her occupation as a teacher, but she also has another motive for staying.

“I think it is important to develop understanding and friendship between Chinese and American people. And it is also important to further develop the coordination of education and technology between China and America,” she explained.

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