Chang Tan Promoted to Associate Professor

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The year 2014 is shaping up to be a year of milestones for Chang Tan. In January, the Harvey Mudd College Board of Trustees voted to promote Tan, a professor of Chinese language and culture in the Department of Humanities, Social Sciences, and the Arts, to associate professor with continuous tenure.

“As the board recognized, this promotion is richly deserved,” said Jeffrey D. Groves, professor of literature and dean of the faculty. For Tan, that vote of confidence marks a turning point in her professional and personal life.

“I think the biggest thing is a sense of affirmation,” said Tan. “Now I’m ready to experiment more and try things that are a bit more risky and innovative in both my teaching and my research.”

In her new role, Tan hopes to develop courses that have not been offered at Harvey Mudd before, including a course on Modern Asian Art and a seminar that explores the role of creativity across disciplines. That’s in addition to the courses in Chinese language, culture, art and film she’s been teaching since joining the faculty in 2008.

“I really enjoy teaching. The best moments in the classroom are when I step back and let students show me what they could do with an assignment or a project. I find myself thinking, ‘I never thought about that before,’ or, ‘That is such an interesting approach.’ They continuously surprise me.”

In addition to teaching, Tan will soon publish a book she’s been researching and writing for the past five years. Loosely based on her dissertation at The University of Texas at Austin, the work is tentatively titled “Copy, Borrow or Steal: Modes of Appropriation in Contemporary Chinese Art,” and it explores the complex dynamics between appropriation and creativity. Tan visited galleries, museums, studios and art foundations in China, Hong Kong and Singapore to gather information from artists, archives and secondary resources.

“The book is with the publisher right now, and hopefully it’s going to come out, if not this year, then early next year,” said Tan. “It’s unbelievable how many times you have to rewrite in order to get the qualities you want. But now, after five years, I’m finally kind of satisfied with what I’ve written.”

With the completion of such a time-consuming project and the assumption of her new position, Tan is looking forward to a new chapter in her life. She has more projects on the horizon, but for now she’s relishing the freedom to attend professional conferences and turning her attention to some long-neglected interests. “I’d like to draw and do calligraphy again,” Tan said. “I started riding a bike this semester. I want to establish regular exercise and artwork routines, so I can be as well-rounded as my students.” Odds are, in this year of personal milestones, Tan will manage to do just that.