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Hung Thai Receives Outstanding Teaching Award

Hung Cam Thai

Hung Thai, associate professor of sociology at Pomona College, was awarded the “Outstanding Teaching Award” by the Asian American Section of the American Sociological Association at their annual meeting in Denver.

A member of the Pomona faculty since 2001, Thai was nominated by Christopher Fiorello ’11 who noted, “While I have taken classes with professors who clearly cared deeply about the material, the students, or the learning process, none simultaneously possessed all three of these qualities in addition to an unabashed passion for his vocation.”

Fiorello took three classes with Thai starting with Introduction to Sociology. “Professor Thai found ways to instill confidence in the class by listening carefully to each comment and, from those comments, building a discussion that all students felt they had a stake in. To watch Professor Thai do this class after class, week after week, regardless of the course’s specificity or the students’ foreknowledge of the discipline, was beyond inspiring.”

Introduction to Sociology, it turns out, is Thai’s favorite class to teach. He started college with plans “to major in something practical such as engineering or chemistry.” One sociology course in his freshman year, however, was all it took for him to decide on sociology. In that class, he says, “I read a book that changed my life, the Managed Heart by Arlie Hochschild. I love teaching this intro course because I see students develop passion for the field, and see them learn that what they have in everyday life cannot be taken for granted when viewed from the most basic sociological lens. That’s the promise of sociology, and that’s why I love introducing students to the field.”

Thai’s teaching and mentoring extends beyond the classroom. Each summer he tries to takes two-to-four students with him on research trips abroad. Fiorello was lucky enough to accompany Thai to both Vietnam and Singapore, as a data collector and writing assistant, respectively. “We spent countless hours going over my field notes, him questioning me on what I had observed and why I had framed things as such,” says Fiorello. “He brought me along with him to meet new interview respondents, exemplifying how to build rapport.  We co-conducted interviews, allowing me to learn the methodology firsthand.”

Thai’s current research is an ethnographic, interview-based project examining monetary flows in low-wage transnational families in the globalizing city of Saigon, focusing on how overseas Vietnamese immigrants and foreigners living and working in that city alter class and gender relations. The issues are much more than financial. He points out that the financial transactions are embedded in complex systems of cultural expectations, self-worth and emotional economies. He decided to isolate the experiences of low-wage workers because of the precariousness such workers face in their jobs while trying to provide for nonimmigrant relatives in their homeland.

On leave this semester, Thai will teach Introduction to Sociology and Contemporary Asian American Issues in the spring. He also teaches the courses Global Asia/Asia America and Immigration and Second Generation, and has mentored many students on their summer independent research projects.

Thai earned his Ph.D. in sociology from U.C. Berkeley and is the author of the book For Better or For Worse: Vietnamese International Marriages in the New Global Economy (2008) and the forthcoming Insufficient Funds: Money in Low Wage Transnational Families (Stanford University Press), in addition to more than a dozen scholarly articles and chapters.