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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]


Real world practice: PLU professor Greg Guldin takes anthropology international

By Drew Brown, Editor

Consulting China
CONSULTING CHINA: PLU Professor Greg Guldin (MIDDLE) in front of the famous Shaolin Temple in North Central China, along with other consultants and (FIRST ON LEFT) a representative of the Chinese Ministry of Finance.

The day after May finals, Greg Guldin was doing the same as most PLU professors—grading papers. The only difference was that Guldin was grading his on a plane to Beijing, ready to put his teaching of applied anthropology into practice. He is often hired as an anthropological consultant.

Guldin’s newest project has him working for the Chinese Ministry of Finance. He was hired by the ministry as its international consultant (with a team of four Chinese consultants) to investigate why the anti-poverty funds are not effectively getting to the households of China.

“This is what applied anthropology is all about,” Guldin said. “Taking academic knowledge, seeing how it is useful, and applying it to help make lives better.”

Guldin, who has been at PLU since 1979, has been an integral force in developing the subject of anthropology. He helped professor Laura Klein establish an anthropology department in the early ’80s. Then about 10 years ago, Guldin started working as an applied anthropologist—a profession that turns academic anthropology into real-world practice. The most recent result is a class called Applied Anthropology, which specifically explores the uses of the anthropological approach in improving human conditions.

“What we do here is at the heart of PLU’s mission, to educate for lives of service,” he said. Guldin’s own Jewish tradition of “living and working to make the world a better place” makes the program and philosophy at PLU a perfect fit.

One way Guldin is making the world better has been his consultation for the Washington State School Directors Association. For five years, Guldin has worked with the association on multicultural education, organizing training workshops, improving test scores among ethnic groups, helping lessen the negative impact of poverty on learning, and solidifying policy on state/church separation issues in the classroom.

Guldin also has been involved with the environmentally and socially sustainable development division of the World Bank in China. When the World Bank needs to assess the impact of a proposed project on people’s lives, or cultural conflicts arise within a company that requests assistance, Guldin is brought in. He also uses these same concepts at home—Guldin recently worked with rural Washington state police departments in how they handle situations, especially with migrant workers from Mexico and Southeast Asia.

“I take the material I teach in Introduction to Anthropology, and make it accessible to outsiders,” Guldin said. “A lot of it involves the same things I teach my students: observe, listen, interview, and research.”

More important than consulting is the teaching. One of the fundamental reasons he is at PLU is it’s a university where he can help give students skills needed to apply learning to the world outside the classroom.

“Parents should be concerned with whether their children are learning to write, collaborate and think independently and analytically,” Guldin said. “That is more important than the major.”

Guldin also believes that since doing his applied work, his teaching has improved significantly. “If you emphasize skills in context, the skills will last,” Guldin said. His wealth of experience proves how and why applied anthropology is so essential.

Along with teaching and consulting, he is also a writer. His latest book, “What’s a Peasant to Do? Village Becoming Town in Southern China” was published in December.

Guldin’s experience has not only given him great opportunities, but the ability to bring the global community into the classroom.

“I appreciate a school like PLU that allows a teacher to have a full commitment to students while being able to consult and write,” Guldin said. “It’s great having the opportunity to bring my experiences back into the classroom.”

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