UCLA's First Recipients of the Bachelor of Arts Degree in Southeast Asia Studies


Christie Lee and Louie Tortuya “are only the first graduates of what will become a prominent and vibrant new program of study at UCLA.”

This June, two student pioneers, Christie Lee and Louie Tortuya, became the first graduates of the Southeast Asia Studies major. They have led the way towards establishing the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, formed in July of 1999, as a major national center for graduate and undergraduate study. The Southeast Asia Studies undergraduate major and minor, offered through the Interdepartmental Program (IDP), provides students with the opportunity to take comparative approaches to their studies. Lee and Tortuya are the first beneficiaries of the new IDP and Center for Southeast Asian Studies collaboration that Professor Geoffrey Robinson, the Center Director and the IDP Chair, believes "places UCLA at the forefront of study and research on this fascinating and important region."

Christie Lee credits professors such as Geoffrey Robinson, Thu-Huong Nguyen-Vo and George Dutton as the inspiration and source of knowledge for her commitment to work with the Vietnamese communities in the US and in Vietnam. During her semester abroad in Singapore in the fall of 2002, she traveled to Vietnam and other countries in the region, an experience she feels is invaluable to any student in the program and to others interested in studying the region. As further testament to her commitment to Vietnam and her abilities, Lee was awarded a scholarship to the Vietnamese Advanced Summer Institute (VASI) in Ha Noi this summer. VASI promotes the development of Vietnamese language programs in North America.

Louie Tortuya managed to take a full course load at UCLA while holding a full-time job as a lifeguard in Long Beach. The major has helped him understand that the key to studying the Philippines, or any other country within the region, was to understand how it fit into the broader Southeast Asian region. He spent a year in the Philippines in 2001, which he feels was "the most influential experience, by far, …as it brought all the issues and questions that Southeast Asianists face to a personal level." He plans to return to the Philippines in the fall to build on his plans to develop a surfboard company. As a child of mixed heritage, his ability to carve out his own Filipino identity and blend it with his love for the water has impressed and inspired all that surround him.

Today, eight UCLA students are majoring in Southeast Asia Studies and 18 are taking it as a minor. Even students not majoring in Southeast Asia studies have found it useful to take courses in the IDP. Since 1999, over 60 non-major students have taken at least 5 Southeast Asia Studies courses. The number of Southeast Asia Studies majors and minors has grown each year since 2001 along with the number of students traveling to Southeast Asia on the Education Abroad Program (EAP). Due largely to the efforts of the Center's faculty and staff, EAP now offers programs in Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines. Students can also study in Indonesia through the Singapore program. For the academic year of 2002-2003 twenty students studied in Southeast Asia. This year, 38 students will be studying in Southeast Asia. The EAP experience enhances the already impressive resources and opportunities available at UCLA for students interested in Southeast Asia. Lee and Tortuya experienced this first hand.

Director Robinson speaks for many when he says that Lee and Tortuya "are only the first graduates of what will become a prominent and vibrant new program of study at UCLA." Lee and Tortuya represent "UCLA's commitment to intellectual leadership in new fields of scholarship" and are products of "the university's willingness to build upon the wonderful diversity of Southern California, and on its position as a cultural, economic, and social crossroads between North America and Southeast Asia." Both the Center and the university are proud to have students such as Lee and Tortuya as the vanguard of Southeast Asian Studies graduates at UCLA.  

Published: Thursday, July 10, 2003