Calvin Chen

Mount Holyoke College Faculty Award for Teaching

“Intimidatingly smart,” “imaginative” and “inspiring” is how students describe Calvin Chen. Crammed with his deep knowledge of Chinese and East Asian politics, Calvin’s meticulously crafted lectures have riveted Mount Holyoke students for over fifteen years. Pacing from one end of the room to the other, his lecture notes magnified on an iPhone, Calvin delivers dazzling presentations that students find to be “mind-opening” and “super thought-provoking.” An “exciting” and “fantastic” lecturer, “even his tangents are fun,” as one student put it. “Professor Chen is the only instructor I have encountered,” said another, “who is able to make lectures both 100% engaging and enjoyable.”

Students work extremely hard in Calvin’s courses, yet the experience is immensely rewarding. Rigorous and demanding, Calvin pushes students well beyond their limits “He has high expectations,” students note, “but he will make time and even take on more work for himself in order to give you the most out of the class.” A dedicated and generous teacher, Calvin’s office hours extend late into the day as students eagerly line up in the Skinner hallway waiting to chat with “Chairman Cal”!

Calvin exposes students early on to methodological and substantive debates in the social sciences. To the delight of students, he illustrates abstract concepts by invoking storylines and heroes from “Frozen” and “Sherlock Holmes” to “Star Wars” and the “Game of Thrones.” He connects theory with practice by involving students in simulations and debates that place them at the center of pivotal events like the Cultural Revolution or conflicts such as those over China’s maritime claims.

In Calvin’s classes, one does not just learn about China and Japan or reforms in post-communist societies. Rather, as student after student attests, he teaches them how to read critically, write clearly, and sharpen their public speaking skills. Calvin’s prompt, thorough and extensive feedback on student papers is legendary. Students learn how to frame and present their arguments effectively in high-pressure settings—for example, a simulated talk show with Calvin playing the part of CNN host Anderson Cooper.

Calvin not only “embodies precision,” he expects the same degree of precision from students and colleagues, even going so far as to time them in classes and meetings with a stopwatch!

Calvin’s scholarship is equally rigorous and compelling. From his first book—an ethnographic study of China’s rural enterprises—to his recent work on Chinese immigrants in Italy and Spain, Calvin shows us how ordinary people adapt to economic and social transformations and exercise political agency in myriad and unexpected ways. Calvin’s original and in-depth fieldwork in Chinese factories and among migrant communities in Prato, Milan and Barcelona places him at the forefront of scholars working on China’s political economy, transnational production networks, and Chinese migration.

The impact of Calvin’s classes and teaching is profound and enduring. Alumnae recall Calvin’s courses as the “most challenging” on campus and the “best preparation for graduate study.” Calvin’s brilliant teaching and impeccable scholarship, according to a former student, “demonstrate, most of all, the compassionate aspects of studying politics.”

We are pleased to present Calvin Chen with the Mount Holyoke College Faculty Award for Teaching. Congratulations, Calvin, and may the Force be with you!