The Henry Luce Foundation awarded Illinois College a $50,000 exploratory grant last year as part of the foundation’s Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment (LIASE). These funds are allowing the College to expand its 25-year partnership with Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto.
The activities funded through the LIASE Explorations grant have increased awareness and knowledge of environmental issues in Japan among Illinois College faculty and students. Through this initiative, 32 faculty members and five staff members have studied Japan and the environment, and several faculty members have traveled to Japan to meet with colleagues there and plan future research collaborations.
Biology professor Laura Corey and modern languages professor Reiko Itoh, who are leading the initiative, and economics professor Kevin Klein, a participating faculty member, also met with colleagues from other liberal arts colleges across the country that have successfully developed programs that combine Asian and environmental studies.
During the 2013-14 academic year, Corey and Itoh led Japan study groups with faculty throughout the fall semester, and with faculty and students during the spring semester. “We explored environmental issues, along with food and resource issues,” Corey said.
In March Illinois College hosted the International Symposium on Science, Sustainability and Teaching that was made possible through this exploratory grant from the Luce Foundation. The purpose of the symposium was to bring together faculty and students from Ritsumeikan University and Illinois College who are researching areas related to the environment and issues of sustainability.
Symposium lecturers included James Godde, professor and chair of the biology department at Monmouth College; Darrin Magee, associate professor of environmental studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges; Motoki Kubo, professor of biotechnology and chair of life sciences at Ritsumeikan University; Larry Zettler, professor and chair of the biology department at Illinois College; Jun Nakajima, director of the research center for sustainability science at Ritsumeikan University; and Andrew Moore, associate professor of geology at Earlham College. Moore provided the closing lecture on the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan in March 2011 and resulted in the nuclear disaster at Fukushima.
Student poster sessions and presentations from Klein’s environmental economics course addressed topics including whaling, fishing, the Fukushima ice wall containment project and the role of women in Japan’s environmental movement. Magee, the symposium evaluator, said the students’ work “evidenced the high caliber of work that undergraduates in a liberal arts setting as far from Asia as is physically possible are capable of doing, and the important points of departure for further study of Asia those projects could represent.”
This summer, additional grant-funded workshops will take place to facilitate faculty development of course materials that will integrate Japanese environmental issues into existing Illinois College courses. “Through these workshops we want to have a concrete way to bring these issues to a broader group of students,” Corey said.
Instead of creating brand new courses that allow 10-20 students to focus on these issues, Corey said they plan to reach more students by incorporating these issues within established courses.
“For example, BIO 110 has multiple sections that reach 150 students a year,” Corey said. “By helping faculty embed these issues into existing courses, more students become aware of these connections so that if they later decide they want to go on a Japan BreakAway, or if they want to take one of our dedicated Japanese courses, they have that little taste to get them in the door.”
The College plans to submit a proposal to the Luce Foundation in September for an implementation grant. If successful, this grant would allow the College to build international faculty-student research collaborations and further integrate Japan and environmental studies into the Illinois College curriculum.