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Lan Dong named 2012 University Scholar

Associate Professor of English Lan Dong was presented the annual University Scholar award at UIS. The award is granted by a review panel that consists of faculty members appointed by  the Provost, an emeritus faculty member, and an ex-officio as the Chair.

Lynn Pardie, the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost, called University Scholar, “The most prestigious university award.”

Pardie said that the University Scholar, “is specifically for recognition as an outstanding scholar that can be for sustained achievement [and] for particularly promising early career work–and that’s the area in which Lan Dong excels.”

Dong is from Beijing, China. She came to the U.S. in 2000 and has been a member of UIS for six years. She has a B.A. in Chinese Literature from Beijing University, an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Dartmouth College, and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Massachusetts. Her teaching and research interests include Asian American Literature, Comparative Literature, and Graphic Narratives.

She said what drew her to UIS were the small classes, “I really like the small classroom connection; I get to know my students very well. This way I can help them individually.”

Dong is known for her book Mulan’s Legend and Legacy in China and the United States (2011). The book looks at the different versions of the famous Chinese heroin from Chinese texts to the representation of her in the U.S., such as Disney’s movie, Mulan (1998).

Her interest in the subject stems from her early education. She said, “I knew of Mulan’s story, because of the Ballad of Mulan (essentially a narrative poem) was part of the textbook for middle school in China. I think it’s still the case.”

Dong said the project started out as an article, but as she conducted her research, she found, “lots of material I didn’t know about. I found numerous poems that are dedicated to [Mulan], I found plays and full-length novels…I also found there are quite a few other animation films on Mulan [other than Disney]…They are not well known at all, but they have different takes of her story.”

Dong also edited a book that was published over the summer, Teaching Comics and Graphic Narratives: Essays on Theory, Strategy and Practice, a collection that discusses how comics and graphic novels can be used as primary texts in the classroom.

“The more I teach [comics], the more I realize it’s more complex for students to interpret, because you have to deal with close reading of the text and you also need to learn the visual literacy,” she said. “I also find that very timely for the traditional college students because they are very visually-oriented, or at least they think they are, growing up with all the media surrounding them.”

Dong added that her classes on graphic narratives, “Expand people’s understanding of comics and graphic novels. Superheroes are a very important tradition, but it’s not all in part. So those are my new research interests.”

Her nominator for University Scholar, Associate Professor of History Peter Shapinsky, said, “She’s an indefatigable worker and a really impressive scholar.”

Shapinsky said he nominated Dong because, “We’re a teaching institution, but she’s still able to do all this fantastic work: her book on Mulan, edited volumes, lots of articles, and it’s really high quality work. Most of her work has been very well reviewed. So having that synthesis of teaching and scholarship, and at such a high level of scholarship, it warranted the award.”

Pardie said the award comes with “a funding reward of $30,000, and that’s distributed over three years for the scholar to use in whatever way he or she wants to use it to advance their scholarly work.”

Dong said she will not return for classes next semester; she will be on a research sabbatical with the focus on comics and Asian America. She is also currently editing a two-volume encyclopedia on Asian American Culture.

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