Center for East Asian Studies Awarded Grant for Chinese Summer Program

November 9th, 2023

The Center for East Asian Studies has received a federal grant to fund a summer Chinese language immersion program designed for high school students and college freshmen and sophomores.


The STARTALK grant, about $340,000 for a two-year cycle, is managed and funded by the National Security Agency. The program supports innovative programs with strong language learning outcomes for K-16 students in several critical need languages: Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Persian and Russian.


“It’s important to get students interested in learning about languages at a young age, especially these less commonly taught languages,” said Wenhao Diao, Co-Director of the Center for East Asian Studies and Associate Professor in the Department of East Asian Studies. “The intermediate level is the sweet spot for language immersion. Students have some foundational knowledge so they’re not completely overwhelmed. This is a fantastic opportunity to create and strengthen that K-16 language learning.”


The federal funding makes the program free for students, with recruitment underway for the 45 available slots. Participants will be on campus from June 2 to June 14.  


“We’re using a lot of existing online resources, but also adding to it so it will be a new curriculum,” said Diao, who will lead a teaching team that includes instructors from Tucson, the Phoenix area and Texas. “It’s a fairly comprehensive design in that it’s not just in the classroom all day. It’s very immersive. We have language learning in the morning, then we have group lunch with instructors and tutors so they can continue speaking. In the afternoons, we have five built-in field trips and cultural activities.”


Students will read age-appropriate authentic stories and learn Chinese cultural practices about desert, water and environment. Students will also participate in field trips to the Saguaro National Park, the Coronado National Forest and Biosphere 2, while engaging in discussions about climate challenges and real-world solutions, all in Chinese. Qualified students will earn two University of Arizona credits upon the completion of all camp activities.


The program includes a pre-camp online component, two weeks of language immersion instruction and activities on campus, and a post-camp online follow-up component.  


For the pre-camp, students will hear from invited guest speakers from under-represented populations who have learned Chinese and are using their language skills to do important work.


“We’ll have these three speakers to promote why it matters to learn a language and especially the kind of futures they can have. The motivational sessions will open their minds to the different opportunities,” Diao said.


While Arizona State University housed a STARTALK program in the past, this is the only active program. Arizona has the nation’s eighth largest network of public schools offering Chinese in K-12 schools, two in the Tucson area and six in the Phoenix area, Diao said.


“We designed the program so it would work really well with what we already have,” she said. “The idea around grades nine through 14, rather than grade 12, is there might be students form community college, which aligns very well with our center’s mission for outreach.”


For more information and to apply, visit