President Axel D. Steuer has appointed Professor of English Robert Koepp to be the Frances McReynolds Smith Professor of International Understanding for excellence in promoting understandings across nations and peoples. Koepp has carried out this mission with exemplary success at Illinois College since coming to the College in 1982.
In 1987 Koepp proposed a collaboration with Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan. Since 1989 Ritsumeikan has sent approximately 25 students every February for five weeks to learn English and American culture at Illinois College. The program has had a profound effect on the Jacksonville community because many area families have provided home stays for the visiting Japanese students over the years.
Each year Ritsumeikan also sends four students to Illinois College for a full year of study. In turn, Illinois College students have the opportunity to travel to Japan as part of the Views of Japan BreakAway, a program which Koepp developed in 1999. Illinois College students also can participate in a semester-long study abroad program at Ritsumeikan University.
In 2007 Koepp organized a celebration to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the College’s collaboration with the Japanese university. The celebration included a three-day peace studies symposium which featured scholarly presentations by Ritsumeikan University and Illinois College professors representing a broad range of academic disciplines. Currently, Koepp is working on an initiative to start a program of faculty exchange with Ritsumeikan and has also begun an exchange dialogue with Kanazawa University in Japan.
Over the past 20 years Koepp has also been a regular leader of study-tours and BreakAway trips to England, Scotland, Ireland, and Japan, and has led adult tours to France and to Germany as well. During a sabbatical leave in 2006 he spent a semester in Kyoto as a visiting professor at Ritsumeikan, teaching courses in British and American literature and film.
Besides his efforts to promote international studies, Koepp has been an active literary scholar, regularly presenting papers at conferences in the U.S. and abroad. He has often assumed leadership roles in faculty governance, most notably including work on the Faculty Senate and on the College’s strategic planning groups.