Following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, I recall being astounded that the iconic arches and pillars of Stanford University—though damaged—didn’t collapse or fall during the powerful earthquake. Wooden supports were inserted below the arches and remained for years while retrofitting took place. Since then, the arches and pillars have symbolized for me the stability and the security of the foundation of Stanford University. During yet another unstable time in 2020, this symbolism has once again taken on critical significance here and abroad.
In 1989, the World Wide Web was yet to be born, so obviously SPICE did not offer online classes to students in the United States, let alone to students abroad. SPICE’s first online course, the Reischauer Scholars Program, was launched in 2004. RSP Instructor Naomi Funahashi introduces topics related to Japan and U.S.–Japan relations to high school students in the United States. In 2015, SPICE launched Stanford e-Japan, an online course on U.S. society and culture and U.S.–Japan relations that Waka Takahashi Brown and Meiko Kotani offer to high school students in Japan. Since then, several other regional classes have been launched, including Stanford e-Kawasaki in 2019.
Stanford e-Kawasaki is an online course for high school students in Kawasaki City that is jointly offered by Kawasaki City and SPICE. Stanford e-Kawasaki Instructor Maiko Tamagawa Bacha provides students with an introduction to diversity and entrepreneurship in the United States and equips students with substantive knowledge about U.S. culture and society that may have a significant impact on their future choice of study and career.
The inaugural Stanford e-Kawasaki course began in October 2019 and culminated this month with presentations of final research projects by students from Tachibana High School and Kawasaki High School, the two participating schools in the inaugural course. Leading scholars from Stanford University and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs—including Dr. Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu from Stanford and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Sukemasa Kabayama, CEO and Co-Founder of Uplift, and Rika Nakazawa, VP Strategy and Business Development at Atheer—led online class discussions and not only encouraged students to critically think about diversity and entrepreneurship in the United States but also in Japan. These discussions helped students to conceptualize topics for their final research projects.
The research projects were varied and included a comparative analysis of college admissions in the United States and Japan, an examination of psychological issues affecting youth in the United States and Japan, and a discussion about whether a Silicon Valley-type ecosystem can be created in Japan. The students’ presentations were not only content rich and creative but also effectively engaged the audience, which included Vice Principal Akihiro Igarashi of Tachibana High School, Miyuki Kitamura of Kawasaki City, SPICE Instructors Carey Moncaster, Rylan Sekiguchi, and Kasumi Yamashita, Bacha, teachers from both high schools, and me. Bacha reflected, “Though my students were not able to make their presentations physically in front of audiences [as originally planned] due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, I was grateful to have had the chance to virtually observe all of the presentations from Colorado along with my colleagues in California, Hawai‘i, and Washington. I was especially impressed with my students’ demonstrated growth in their English-speaking abilities and confidence. Especially gratifying was to witness students asking each other questions.”
Vice Principal Igarashi noted, “I am deeply grateful for the opportunity given to the Tachibana High School students to join online class discussions led by leading scholars in the United States… As I watched them passionately delivering their final research presentations that they worked hard on, I could tell that they gained unique experiences which they cannot experience in regular school classes. By comparing Japan and the United States in their research projects, I am sure that they discovered new things about their own country, Japan… I believe from the bottom of my heart that the online classes and assignments given by this course will empower the youth of the future.”
While listening to the presentations, I was struck by how well the students engaged the audience. In my final comments, I commended their use of several effective presentation techniques, such as the following.
In addition, for the first time since SPICE launched online courses, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction from knowing that we could bring some stability and security to the lives of students who could no longer physically go to school. The students gushed with enthusiasm despite their nervousness.
Mizuho Toyama, a Teacher of the English Department at Kawasaki High School noted, “We were so excited about our students’ online presentations this morning. What they did was tremendous and the experience they went through—I am sure—has become their priceless treasure… They learned not only English as a foreign language but also, more importantly, stepping out of their ‘comfort zone’ to seek advanced levels of learning. Raising cultural awareness with peers and also sharing thoughts without racial biases is an excellent source of learning. I am thankful for this program for encouraging students to be more openminded.”
Erica Oh, an American Assistant Language Teacher of English at Kawasaki High School, also commented on Bacha’s course. “Again, thank you and your staff, especially Maiko Tamagawa Bacha, for the awesome opportunity you have given our students to learn more and think outside their cultural box. It was an absolute delight for me to be able to witness their growth. I hope Stanford and Kawasaki stay in partnership and that this program continues.” For one of the online classrooms that focused on diversity, Bacha invited former Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program Assistant Language Teachers—John Branderhorst, Jeffrey Fleischman, Ryan Moore, and Cerell Rivera—to share their perspectives. “Bringing Americans and Japanese together—albeit virtually—at a time like this is invaluable,” commented Bacha.
Students who successfully completed the course will earn a Certificate of Completion from SPICE/Stanford University on March 26, 2020 during a virtual closing ceremony. Mayor Norihiko Fukuda will make opening comments. In addition to SPICE staff, others who will be in attendance are Hisashi Katsurayama from the Kawasaki Board of Education and Katsuyoshi Abe, Yoshitaka Tsuchihama, and Miyuki Kitamura of Kawasaki City, all of whom have been unwavering in their support of Stanford e-Kawasaki.
When SPICE launched its online courses, I never imagined that the SPICE instructors would be reaching many students whose school lives were disrupted by a pandemic. I feel indebted to FSI Director Dr. Michael McFaul and FSI Deputy Director Dr. Kathryn Stoner for their support during this unstable time and enabling SPICE to help add some stability and security to students’ lives.