Joy Hughes Recognized for Confucius Institute Leadership

Posted: January 4, 2012 at 5:01 am, Last Updated: January 3, 2012 at 2:27 pm

By Robin Herron

Joy Hughes. Photo by Evan Cantwell

When Joy Hughes, vice president for information technology and CIO, returned on Dec. 16 from her fourth trip to China, she brought with her a red velvet case that held a heavy silver medal on a red-and-white-striped ribbon. The medal was presented to Hughes in recognition of her leadership on behalf of Mason’s Confucius Institute.

Hughes’ connection with the institute began in 2009, shortly after it was founded at Mason, but she has been part of the “Mason-China connection” almost since she joined the university in 1997.

President Alan Merten asked Hughes to help with a World Trade Organization request to facilitate a China-U.S. business connection, and thereafter called upon her for other China-related duties. This experience, combined with the fact that her husband is Chinese, helped to make Hughes a go-to person at the university on China issues. “I know the protocol,” she says.

Since then, Madelyn Ross joined Mason as director of China initiatives, and Hughes says she steps in on China matters only when asked to help. However, Bill Reeder, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, tapped Hughes to help with strategic planning for the Confucius Institute, and she can claim leadership on a number of institute initiatives.

For example, she helped clarify the institute’s mission at Mason, which now focuses on projects that are supported by Mason faculty and/or students; the Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU), Mason’s Confucius Institute partner; and the Chinese Ministry of Culture, which provides funding for the Confucius Institutes. “Those three ‘stars’ have to align in order for us to initiate a project,” Hughes says.

The project also has to “build capacity” in the participating organization, Hughes says, by which she means that the project has to be self-sustaining going forward. Mason’s institute is one of the few that stresses capacity building, she says.

An example of a project that met those criteria is Traveling Trunks, a resource that is used in Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William school districts to help elementary teachers add a Chinese component to their classes.

Mason students, students from BLCU and staff members created a “trunk” that contains hands-on objects, such as a Chinese fan, an abacus and a bamboo Chinese writing slate, along with instructions to help the children construct facsimiles of the objects. The trunks, which can be checked out of the school systems’ central offices for use in the classroom, also provide a teacher’s guide and background materials on the items. The trunk materials were researched by a team led by Jane Daly, Information Technology Unit executive assistant and project manager, who is a former elementary school teacher.

University Libraries is working on another project that will benefit K-12 teachers, a digital resource library called Baoku (“treasure trove”) that will provide photographs and information related to Chinese history, culture, art and language. One challenge is researching the copyrights on the items to ensure they can be freely shared, “which is something that University Libraries is well qualified to do,” Hughes notes.

Hughes says there is no lack of ideas or suggestions for projects.

“This area has a large Chinese-American community, we have faculty who are engaged with China and we have students who are Chinese or want to learn about China,” she says. “We could have a project for every day of the year, but we want to pick ones that have maximum impact. For example, the Jazz Ensemble went to China to perform and developed relationships with the Shanghai Conservatory. Now they can build on that relationship.”

The presentation of the individual Confucius Institute award, which was also given to Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board USA, and C.D. Mote, president emeritus of the University of Maryland, College Park, took place in Beijing at China’s National Centre for the Performing Arts, often referred to as the Bird’s Egg. Hughes reports that more than 2,000 delegates from 358 Confucius Institutes and 500 Confucius Classrooms in 105 countries attended.

Hughes award citation reads: “As a university leader with a long-term outlook, she has increased the prestige of the Confucius Institute inside and outside the university. Under her leadership, the Confucius Institute at George Mason University enjoys high reputation and influence in the university, local communities, the State of Virginia and Washington, D.C.”

“I have really enjoyed working with university leaders around the world on the Confucius Institute,” Hughes says. “Whether it’s a university in Botswana, London, Milan or Pakistan; a top-tier school in the U.S., such as Columbia, Stanford or UCLA; or a state university in a state hard-hit by high unemployment and declining manufacturing — all these leaders are determined to make sure that their students learn how to function well in an increasingly interdependent global society.”

Hughes is deeply appreciative of her award, but says she would rather see Mason’s Confucius Institute, which is ranked in the top 50 out of the 390 institutes around the world, receive an award because the staffs from BLCU and from Mason have done such great work.

“Maybe next year,” she says.

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