Grant establishes new Tohoku Center at UCR Extension

 Daming Ye/HIGHLANDER
Daming Ye/HIGHLANDER

In an endeavor to develop international education techniques for both itself and UCR, Tohoku University of Japan is using a $10 million grant to institute the Tohoku Center at UCR Extension. President of Tohoku University Susumu Satomi was present at the grand opening of the program on Feb. 11.

The grant money would be used to develop what officials call a “global human resources center.” The idea is to provide students with an international and practical education, while strengthening ties between the Riverside campus and Tohoku University. “They would work with us to give students not only English skills, but job preparation skills,” explained Associate Dean for International Education Programs Bronwyn Jenkins-Deas.

“Now at this point, Tohoku is sending students to the extension center—but that’s it, right? So there, the hope is: let’s bring it to the main campus and start exchanging, students, faculties, more,” Japanese professor Reiko Sato said in an interview with the Highlander.

To this end, the grant will fund a group of 30 Tohoku University faculty to travel to UCR. The Japanese faculty will attend seminars and workshops aimed at improving services for international students.

Nearly 160 Tohoku University students will be able to visit UCR per year and engage in hands-on learning experiences in the Riverside community. The first class of international students from Japan will fill 44 spots. The center offers three programs currently in place for engineering, environmental sciences and business majors.

But these aren’t the only planned offerings. “We’ll change the program every year… It might be the same topics, or totally different topics,” said Jenkins-Deas. She specifically singled out educational work that can be done with local primary and secondary schools. Entwining the studies of education and medicine, she said these ideas may also be implemented by the program in near future.

To manage the expansion of collaborative activities, the grant money also establishes the position of student exchange coordinator or liaison, which will be filled by Professor Reiko Sato. Prior to this, there was no single person in charge of managing the relationship between the two universities, sometimes making communication and coordination difficult.

The grant was also part of an effort by the Japanese government to incentivize Japanese universities to develop new and innovative means of integrating international education into their curriculum. Tohoku University was one of only 10 universities that emerged from a competitive application process to receive the grant. The money is spread out over five years and universities must reapply at the end of that time period to continue to receive funds.

A major factor in support of Tohoku University’s application was its close partnership with UCR, as well as the close relationship between each university’s host city; Tohoku University is located in Sendai, one of Riverside’s closest sister cities. The collaboration is between not just the two universities, but between the two cities.

“We have a four-way contract. Not only the exchange between the university, but it includes the city in the exchange. […] This is kind of a unique thing,” said Professor Sato.

Tohoku University and UCR have already worked with one another in a variety of capacities. The Southern California Research Initiative on Solar Energy (SC-RISE) is a joint collaboration between the two to develop new solar technology. When a major earthquake struck Sendai in early 2011, Riverside contributed over $500,000 to a relief fund.

Another one of these linkages already in place is the exchange program that annually allows 20 UCR students to travel to Tohoku University expense-free, and may expand to accommodate more students in the future. The funding for the trip is split evenly between Tohoku University and the UCR Extension Center. Revenues that are generated as a result of the Tohoku Center will be reinvested to allow more students to continue the exchange.

The Tohoku Center may also have positive economic benefits for UCR and the surrounding community. The International Program at UCR’s Extension Center is calculated to bring $6.1 million into the local economy. In addition to reinvestment in the Tohoku exchange program, “we’ve hired UCR students as student-workers to work with those students to better their experience here,” Jenkins-Deas remarked.

Potentially, the success of this venture may allow UCR and Tohoku University to further expand the number of projects they collaborate on. “Now, we have an exchange program focused on the students who are learning Japanese and sending them to Tohoku two times a year. But maybe in the future we can open up to all the students on campus who are interested in going to Japan,” Prof. Sato said, recounting stories of students whose lives were changed by travelling overseas.

Languages major Ki Chan agreed with the value of studying abroad, saying “it’s very important… you expand your horizons.”

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