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Interview with Alumnus Will Powers

November 12, 2020

Like many others, DAMES alumnus Will Powers graduated in the midst of a recession in 2008. Unlike many others, however, Mr. Powers went from being a bartender in Raleigh after graduation to participating in The Tester, a reality TV show. His presence and performance on the show eventually netted him a job at Sony.

(Here’s a link to an interview Mr. Powers conducted with Engadget about his experiences on The Tester.)

At Sony, Mr. Powers did QA (quality assurance) for about six months, then shifted over to PR and marketing. He’s been following that route in video games ever since, though he’s left Sony behind to pursue opportunities at several other industry giants.

I’ll ask the question sure to be on everyone’s mind. What games have you worked on?

Arena of Valor, Journey, Tokyo Jungle, Dead Island, Saints Row… seeing my name in the God of War font for the first time was really cool!

What do you do in your current role?

My company right now (The Story Mob) mostly focuses on esports. I’m the person who comes up with the talking points for my executives! As in, no one wants to say that the gaming industry is currently profitable. That’s insensitive. But the numbers are up, no question, so it’s better to say that the pandemic has opened up doors that didn’t exist before. It’s a silver lining to a really, really dark cloud. Turmoil presents the opportunity for innovation, and entertainment like video games and esports fills the void many of us are feeling right now because of the circumstances surrounding the pandemic.

Is working in video games difficult, especially esports?

Sometimes! I’m working on something that’s watched by 100 million people, but I can’t just go out on the street and talk to the average person about it. I don’t know who’s plugged in and who isn’t. Since COVID started, though, ESPN and other big channels have started broadcasting a lot more esports, so it’s becoming more socially obvious and acceptable. We also get more exposure when traditional sports athletes cross over and play our games.

You know, our generation is the first to not age out of video games. It’s this viable source of interactive storytelling that rivals movies. Cannes and BAFTA have video game categories now. Mainstream credibility is finally starting to seep into the industry.

What is your favorite thing about your job? And your least favorite?

The answer to both of those questions is the same: I never know what I’m going to do on any given day. 90% of my day is putting out fires. I only get 10% routine, so it’s not like working at a bank! There’s no normalcy.

I also have to constantly debate with myself as I consider my future career in the industry: do I want to work on small projects and have a big impact, or vice versa?

When you came to UNC and chose to major within the Asian Studies Department (now DAMES), did you envision an eventual career in video games?

I came into college and left it not really knowing what to do with my Japanese degree. I loved the language, but to be honest, the religion and culture classes were the most interesting to me. Now, though, I have this superpower with Japanese. It and my INTS degree have been instrumental in helping me relate to the international gaming community.

The cultural understanding I gained at UNC, especially on the international level, is something I use all the time. No class or book can teach it. It’s something that’s experienced through exposure in a program or study abroad… it’s completely invaluable, and I tap into it on a daily basis. I have to have split-second understanding of cultures across the globe to be able to work with them, to not offend them. Legitimately, a lot of the classes I took at UNC are the foundational knowledge behind that. Self-images of cultures are so important. How they project their identities, how they want to see them reflected… the classes I took [in DAMES] helped me think about things like that.

Mr. Powers shared with me one of his most memorable experiences from UNC:

I did the Summer in Tokyo study abroad program in 2007. I still talk to my host family! And I have this vivid memory: we’re sitting around the dinner table, my host mom, my host dad, one of three kids, and I’m having a conversation about tea. I worked at a tea house with my dad from age 7-17, so I’m trying to describe to my host family how tea is aged in caves. I didn’t have the vocab. They weren’t getting it, so eventually I ended up explaining it by saying that tea “sleeps” in caves for five years!

Follow Mr. Powers on Twitter here! 

And look at his cute dogs, because they’re just as fun as video games.

Majors and minors in DAMES!

November 11, 2020

Have you ever wondered what the numbers look like in a multi-language department like DAMES? Wonder no more! The infographic below reveals our departmental breakdown as of November 2020.

Songs from the Other Side, and More: Interview with Professor Caldwell

November 6, 2020

Did you know that Professor John Caldwell is writing his dissertation whilst forming the backbone of our Hindi-Urdu program here in DAMES? It’s true! Check out my recent interview below with Professor Caldwell about his dissertation, his process, and how his research ties in with his teaching and his work in the local community.

1) Can you give us a “nutshell” version of your dissertation?

“Songs from the Other Side: Listening to Pakistani Voices in India”

India and Pakistan have been two separate nations only since 1947, but more often than not in history political agents have raised barriers to cultural exchange between them. Most recently, in 2016 a ban was imposed on the Indian entertainment industries prohibiting Pakistani actors and musicians from working in India. I explore a series of case studies in which Pakistani singing voices crossed these boundaries, and their songs became embedded in the Indian songscape. This musical exchange was driven by a variety of “vectors” that operated at the intersection of gender, religion, politics, and taste.

2) What inspired you to pursue research on this topic in particular? And for our students who might be interested in writing their own dissertations someday, what is your research process like/how would you recommend getting started?
First, I’ve always known that if I ever was to do a Ph.D., it would have to be in Music/Musicology. Music has been my lifelong passion and hobby. Doing music, and especially playing in ensembles, keeps me sane and centered. Although I’m not a musical omnivore, I have fairly diverse interests and experience, including directing the UNC Gamelan Ensemble, playing bassoon with the Raleigh and Durham Symphonies, and playing the Indian harmonium with local vocalists. I came to my particular dissertation topic through my many years of experience with music and musicians from both India and Pakistan. It was always fascinating to me to discover which songs were shared, and how music can transcend political enmity.

My dissertation process has been somewhat slow because of teaching full time, but I’m on track to finish early next year. I have enjoyed it throughout, and I may be one of the few dissertators who can say that I’m still excited by my topic. I think if you want to do a dissertation you have to find a great program (e.g. UNC) and a great advisor. The great thing about Asian Studies in general is that we get to do “field work,” i.e. spend a semester or a year somewhere in Asia doing research. I had a Fulbright-Nehru Dissertation Grant to live in India in Spring-Summer 2017 and it was wonderful.

3) How has COVID impacted your dissertation and research, if at all?
Luckily I was mostly done with my research when COVID arrived, but I have many colleagues who have had to revise or postpone research plans this year. Funding agencies have been largely cooperative, but it’s still a shame. I also know that for many it has been hard to keep momentum going, but since I’m still enjoying writing, my dissertation is a welcome distraction to the stress and anxiety of the pandemic.

4) Is it difficult to write a dissertation/conduct your research process while teaching classes for DAMES?
It’s not difficult, but it does require some careful time management. My schedule this semester is crazy for a number of reasons, but I’ve managed to squeeze in writing here and there. I once told one of my seminar professors (when asking for an extension) that “I didn’t underestimate the amount of time it would take me to write my seminar paper, but I did underestimate the number of interruptions and distractions I would experience.” The same thing has been true of the dissertation writing process.

5) Do you ever incorporate your dissertation topics into the classes you teach? How much overlap is there? 
Definitely, in my Music of South Asia class (ASIA 164). But I also include lots of songs in my language teaching, and the “unit of analysis” in my dissertation is the individual song. Music is such a great resource in language teaching, as many of my DAMES colleagues can testify.

Study Abroad Excellence: Michael Sparks, IES Abroad Film Finalist

October 27, 2020

Michael Sparks, a senior studying computer science and communications, has been named a finalist in the IES Abroad Film Festival for the film he created on the UNC Summer in Japan program in 2019. IES says of Michael’s film: “[Michael] provides us with an incredible cinematic experience of scenes in Tokyo, Japan that are dramatic and comedic–a balance that is curated so beautifully that we can’t help but hit the replay button.”

Founded in 2014, the IES Abroad Study Abroad Film Festival is one of the first student-focused study abroad film festivals in the industry. Celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, the IES Abroad Film Festival has provided students a platform to voice their global journey through their own words and video footage, capturing unique views into their life-changing study abroad experiences – showing what the experience meant to them and how it redefined their world. For more information, please visit: www.IESabroad.org/film-festival.

Congratulations, Michael! We’re so proud of you!

Video of Professor Timothy Daniels, “Blackness in Malaysia and Indonesia: Stories from the Field” (UNC only)

October 26, 2020

Professor Timothy Daniels (Hofstra University) spoke on the topic of “Blackness in Malaysia and Indonesia: Stories from the Field.” The talk was part of the DAMES 2020-2021 speaker series, “Blackness in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies,” and this event was co-sponsored by the UNC Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies and moderated by Dr. Kevin Fogg (Associate Director, Carolina Asia Center, UNC).

Video of the talk (UNC login required)

Congratulations to our Phi Beta Kappa members in DAMES!

October 26, 2020

Further demonstrating that DAMES is simply bursting at the seams with excellence, several DAMES students have been inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious college honors society.

A student who has completed 75 hours of coursework in the liberal arts and sciences with a GPA of 3.85 or better (on a 4-point scale) is eligible for membership. Also eligible is any student who has completed 105 hours of coursework in the liberal arts and sciences with a 3.75 GPA. Grades earned at other universities are not considered. Fewer than 1% of all college students qualify.

Past and present Phi Beta Kappa members from across the country have included 17 American presidents, 41 U.S. Supreme Court Justices, more than 140 Nobel Laureates and numerous artistic, intellectual and political leaders.

The DAMES initiates are as follows:

Majors:
•       Elizabeth Taylor Cox, a senior with Arab cultures and peace, war and defense majors and a Middle Eastern languages minor, of Chapel Hill.

•       Tucker Eugene Craven, a senior with political science and Chinese majors, of High Point.
•       Andrew Nenow, a senior with computer science and Chinese majors and a statistics and analytics minor, of Boone.
•       Katelyn Marie Shadowens, a senior with Chinse and communication studies majors, of Hickory.
•       Sarah Wang, a junior with computer science and Chinese majors, of Apex.
•       Lydia Sun Yun, a senior with Japanese and peace, war and defense majors, of Durham.

Not to be outdone, our minors:
•       Evangeline Huei-En Liauw, a May 2020 graduate with a business administration major and a Chinese minor, of Durham.
•       Lindsay Zhou, a junior with computer science and linguistics majors and a Japanese minor, of Cary.
•       Hannah Olmstead, a senior with public policy and economics majors and an Arabic minor, of Oklahoma City.

Congratulations to our wonderful students!

UNC Research Week: Interview with Faith Virago

October 23, 2020

Writing an honors thesis is an endeavor in general, full of trials, tribulations, and valuable learning experiences. Add in the bouillon cube of COVID-19 and wow, talk about zesty! DAMES student Faith Virago is making it happen, and I interviewed her to find out just what it’s like to write an honors thesis in our department this year.

1) How did you get involved/what made you decide to write an honors thesis?

I decided to write an honors thesis because I wanted an opportunity to focus on my research interests.

2) Tell us about your research!

I am conducting a qualitative research study by interviewing women who grew up in China and have lived in the US for a portion of their career or education. My main research question is ‘how does a cross cultural transition from China to the US affect Chinese women’s views on gender equality and feminism?’ I am also exploring how these women’s lives and experiences can give us insight into gender equality and feminism in both China and the US. In this research study, I am using the anthropological approach of ethnography because I want to do more than just gather numbers and create a decontextualized analysis. This research is both a presentation of the overall trends as well as an illustration of the context, both historical and environmental, of these lives. In addition to my own data, I am using the book Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up in the Mao Era to compare the experiences of my interviewees with their preceding generation. This book consists of 9 memoir essays from women who grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution and then went on to get their PhDs in the US. I chose to construct a cross-generational analysis so that I can analyze how the situation has changed in the last 50 years and speculate on what role Mao’s particular brand of gender equality played in this change.

3) What do you like most about your work?

I love interviewing people and hearing their life stories and experiences!

4) What’s the hardest part of writing an honors thesis?

The hardest part is starting the writing process.

5) Speaking of difficulties, what’s it like writing an honors thesis in the midst of a global pandemic? Are your resources limited? How have you had to adapt?

My resources are limited in one aspect because I was unable to interview with individuals in person. This limited who I could interview in the sense that they would need to be comfortable using Zoom. It did, however, open up the opportunity for me to interview people outside of NC.

6) What are your future plans?

I am planning to attend graduate school next fall to continue my studies of both Chinese and women in modern China. I plan to eventually conduct research about gender discrimination and gender equality in the lives of women living in rural areas of China. I also hope to research queerness in China, specifically the intersection of culture and gender roles in the lives of transgender Chinese individuals.