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Friday, Aug. 24, 2012

Miyagi university program fostering future leaders for quake recovery

Kyodo

SENDAI — In a classroom near Sendai's main train station, about 40 students from nine universities in Miyagi Prefecture learn every Saturday what they can't learn in their classrooms or lecture halls.

Fukkou University, launched in May, offers a one-year program aimed at developing young leaders to help rebuild from last year's massive quake and tsunami.

"The Miyagi governor says it will take us at least 10 years to fully recover from the disasters, so we definitely need leaders on this long, tough road," says Yasuji Sawada, president of Tohoku Institute of Technology and a key advocate of the new curriculum.

"The damage was overwhelming, so we couldn't just sit there and do nothing at a time when so many people were reaching out for help after losing everything in the tsunami," Sawada said. "In the academic field, we ended up joining forces to do more than what could be done by one university."

The Fukkou University program consists of classroom lectures and volunteer trips to places such as the Medeshima temporary housing complex in the tsunami-hit coastal city of Natori. Students can transfer the units they earn at Fukkou University to their own university.

The students have come together to fulfill different purposes for the common good, and they have generally shown a positive response to the new learning experience.

"I decided to take this course after I made a careless remark on what happened to the region in a chat with my friend, who had been hit by the quake," said Masato Minami, an 18-year-old student from Tohoku University.

"This friend really got mad at me, and then I thought I had to study more. Now I think I understand the minds of those affected a little better now."

Katsuya Omiya, 21, doesn't share Minami's views but still hopes his time at Fukkou University will be beneficial. Omiya still lives in a shelter after his house was washed away in the tsunami. He also lost his dog and a relative.

"I'm among the affected ones, so I haven't found any of the subjects taught here at Fukkou University interesting," Shokei Gakuin University student said.

"I just want to help the people of my community. That's all I want to do," he added. "To be honest, I don't expect too much from this program. I'm trying to think it would be good if this could be some kind of steppingstone for my future."

Tohoku University professor Takashi Sekiuchi, who teaches at Fukkou University, said he has seen a big change in the students' attitudes toward learning.

"Generally speaking, college students didn't have much interest in what was going on in the world before the earthquake," Sekiuchi said. "Many of them just cared about themselves, staying home and playing video games. But what happened on March 11 completely changed these students, so it's been a great opportunity for us to help them learn."

Fukkou University also provides assistance for Miyagi-based firms trying to recover. Its coordinators had visited 236 businesses around the prefecture as of July 20 to find out their needs and create proposals from the academic field.

"Like Peter Drucker says, we can't predict the future of this university, but we can create it," Sawada said, referring to the famous management consultant.

"A leader is someone who can quickly present proposals for unsolved issues. I once explained to a corporate executive about Fukkou University and asked him if he wanted to hire any of our 40 students. And he said, 'I want them all.' It looked like he wasn't joking."



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