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JMU Education Professor Anticipates Learning Experience in China

Dr. Solange Lopes-Murphy

"We need to look at education from an interdisciplinary perspective. And looking at globalization, how can we prepare our students to think in terms of global interdependence and how are we affected by different cultures and different values? Because we see that in our classrooms every day."—Solange Lopes-Murphy

Going to China for a month this summer will be like taking a class, says Solange Lopes-Murphy.

Lopes-Murphy will be going to China in July for a Fulbright-Hays Postsecondary Seminar. An associate professor of middle, secondary and mathematics education, Lopes-Murphy applied for the seminar in October 2009 and was one of 16 U.S. educators in the social sciences and humanities awarded the grant. She is the only Virginia educator among the grant recipients.

The Fulbright-Hays seminar is geared toward educators with little or no experience with the host country and thus improves their understanding and knowledge of the people and cultures of non-Western European nations. During her trip, Lopes-Murphy will gain insight into China's history, culture, society and rapid economic growthóan experience she will be able to share with her students upon her return.

"We need to look at education from an interdisciplinary perspective," Lopes-Murphy said, "and looking at globalization, how can we prepare our students to think in terms of global interdependence and how are we affected by different cultures and different values? Because we see that in our classrooms every day."

The Fulbright-Hays Seminar is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, which states: "China's continuing transformation into a worldwide economic powerhouse is of utmost importance for U.S. educators whose role it is to provide information on and explanation of China's new role and the challenges this presents, not only to other countries, but also to China itself. The need to understand more about this country grows on a daily basis."

Lopes-Murphy's interest in China was sparked by her daughter, Isabella.

"She's just 8 years old and has been learning the Chinese language for the past three years," said Lopes-Murphy, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, who was hired by JMU in 1996 to develop an English-as-a-second-language program in the Shenandoah Valley. "She has this amazing fascination for China."

Lopes-Murphy's interest turned to intrigue when she, Isabella and her husbandóJMU Associate Professor of Biology, Christopher "Kit" Murphyówatched the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

"There was so much discipline that you could observe, just getting 2,000 people to do the exact same movements at the exact right time," Lopes-Murphy said. "And that made me think about the world, and that we have to work together if we are to make this a better place for others. And in that opening show, that made me think , these are the kinds of values that we need to have to be able to all walk in the same direction."

Before leaving for China, the 16 participants will meet in San Francisco for a two-day pre-departure orientation program, allowing the Fulbright scholars to get to know each other while attending briefs on Chinese culture, language, and systems of education, politics and economics.

Once in China, they will visit four cities that provide opportunities to observe different aspects of China: Beijing, the capital city; Xi'an, the "cradle of Chinese civilization;" Shanghai; and Chongqing. The educators will spend one week in each city, attending lectures and discussions and visiting government offices, media outlets and historic sites of cultural interest.

"It's going to be a learning experience, like taking a class," Lopes-Murphy said, noting that since working with English-as-a-second-language in Virginia, she has witnessed an increasing number of Chinese students in American universities.


Published April 2010