Faculty Profile: Dr. Chih-Ping Chen
For Chih-Ping Chen, associate professor of English, showing Alma College students that she cares about them isn’t just part of her job—it’s part of her culture.
“There are always tissues and chocolate in my office for whoever wants to stop by and talk,” she says. “Some students stop in and say they want to talk, and I quickly figure out they’re here for the chocolate! But I don’t mind because it’s part of my Taiwanese culture to use food as a gesture of how much you care about others.”
While growing up in Taiwan, Chen fell in love with English language and literature more quickly than the heroines and heroes fell in love in her beloved books. After reading Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre at 14, she knew she wanted to pursue a career that would keep her reading and speaking English throughout her life.
“After getting my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Taiwan, I wanted to keep learning about English, so I came to the United States,” she says. “I originally planned to focus on 20th-century American literature, but during my first semester at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I took a class with a Professor Robert Keefe, a Victorianist. I fell in love with 19th-century British literature, as well as the passion and desperation for hope in Victorian fictional characters.”
After graduating with her doctoral degree in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Chen came to Alma, where she has been teaching since 2000. While she enjoys teaching courses in 19th-century literature, her field of expertise, she says she also loves exposing students to different cultures through Asian-American literature classes.
“We read works of literature, but the students in my Spring Term class also learn traditional sword dances and attend a traditional Japanese tea ceremony,”she says of a recent Spring Term class. “I like for my students not only to read, but to really immerse themselves in the culture. That way, they learn to become both analytical and reflective at the same time.”
In addition to appearing in various publications, Chen has translated works of American fiction, including Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find and Donald Barthelme’s Great Days, into Chinese.
“Literature embodies human conditions and often tells very brutally and honestly what human nature is really like,” she says. “It helps the students figure out what really matters to them and what makes them human. I love seeing them grow. By teaching, you can see the language from an even deeper perspective, since you’re using it through the eyes of your students.”