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Asia Center Announces New Development Project in Southeast Asia

University of Utah student study group.

Dec. 18, 2012 – The Asia Center at the University of Utah is starting an initiative to build and sustain working relationships among researchers in the United States and Southeast Asia’s Greater Mekong Region.

The center received a $450,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to fund a four-year project run by its Mekong Region Development Research Group, which is directed by Professor Kim Korinek, associate director of the Asia Center and chair of the Department of Sociology, and Stephen Reynolds, a professor of economics.

The Greater Mekong Subregion includes five nations along the Mekong River Basin: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as China’s Yunnan Province. The researchers are interested in understanding how flows of trade, population and cultural and social exchange produce new development and interdependence across the region.

The Luce project is the result of interdisciplinary collaboration among four University of Utah colleges – social and behavioral science, humanities, social work and health – and the University Neighborhood Partners program on Southeast Asian refugees.

“We are delighted with the support granted to this project by the Luce Foundation,” states Robert Newman, dean of the University of Utah College of Humanities. “It recognizes the excellent work and expanding reach of our Asia Center as a national and international resource.”

The project aims to strengthen ties to other universities in the United States and in Southeast Asia, including the University of Washington; Tulane University; the University of California, San Francisco; Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand; the Royal Phnom Penh University in Cambodia; and the Southern Institute of Sustainable Development in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

The project also includes participants from academic, nongovernmental organizations and policy-making organizations in China, Myanmar and Singapore.

“The project team is enthusiastic about extending our training and research efforts to social researchers from the Mekong region, and from Myanmar in particular as that country is experiencing historic reforms and opening relations with western nations,” Korinek says.

Other goals of the Mekong Region Development Research Group project are to develop research capacity among the researchers and academic and nongovernmental institutions, and also to build international research teams that will initiate new, methodologically sophisticated projects on regional and transnational issues of development, demography and exchange in the region.

Asia Center Director Janet Theiss says, “The new Mekong Region Development Research Group is a hallmark of the University of Utah’s efforts to promote interdisciplinary research, internationalize research and teaching, and provide research opportunities for students. It will support significant expansion of our curriculum on Southeast Asia, including language instruction in Vietnamese and Khmer as well as study and service learning opportunities for students in Southeast Asia.”

The project goals will be accomplished through six integrated research methodology training workshops to take place in the United States and Southeast Asia, as well as a series of junior scholar research exchanges that will bring promising young scholars from the Mekong region to the University of Utah and to other institutions.

The first workshop will be held at the University of Utah in May 2013. This two-day gathering will address approaches to measuring health outcomes over people’s lifetimes using survey-based and biometric approaches.

The Henry Luce Foundation ( was established in 1936 by the late Henry R. Luce, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc., to honor his parents who were missionary educators in China. The foundation seeks to bring important ideas to the center of American life, strengthen international understanding, and foster innovation and leadership in academic, policy, religious and art communities.