Visit to Japan Discovers Strong Interest in Community-Based Learning

japan-2In March, Public Administration Professor, Masami Nishishiba; CUPA Dean, Stephen Percy; Dean of Graduate Studies and Vice Provost for International Affairs, Margaret Everett; and I traveled to Japan. Our trip was a busy and productive one – we visited six universities, one foundation, and one government office for the purpose of discussing new or expanded partnerships with PSU.

What was striking about this visit was the high interest that Japanese universities have in PSU’s greatest strength—community engagement. I asked Stephen Percy and Margaret Everett to write a guest blog about the connections made.

By Stephen Percy and Margaret Everett

The conversations with Japanese Universities—public and private, large and small – in Tokyo, Okayama, Hiroshima, and Kyoto were very instructive; showing strong connection to PSU’s mission and new Strategic Plan.

Perhaps the most profound discovery of our university visits was the extent to which our Japanese colleagues in higher education are seeking to learn about and grow community-based learning on their campuses. They are also seeking opportunities to engage with local and regional governments on community initiatives. We were pleased that faculty and administrators in Japan knew of PSU’s work in community engagement and surprised at the consistently expressed interest in emulating our strategies.

A delegation from Ryukoku University recently visited PSU for a workshop on community-engaged learning organized by Professor Nishishiba and her colleagues in the Center for Public Service. She plans to offer a similar workshop for Japanese faculty from several universities next fall.

Community Engagjapan-1ement
Interest in community engagement stems from multiple sources; much as is the case in the United States. For one thing, local and regional governments increasingly understand that the knowledge created in universities can have real and immediate value to solving urban challenges.  At the same time, universities understand that community-based learning can advance student learning and career preparedness. Engagement is also seen as a way to differentiate universities in a competitive environment for student recruitment.

Similar Challenges
We also learned on our visit that Japan and Oregon face some similar challenges.  For example, rapid urbanization in recent decades, coupled with low population growth, has resulted in many smaller Japanese cities and towns facing major depopulation and economic decline.  This is very similar to the economic reality of many communities in Eastern Oregon.  We also saw similar needs regarding urban transportation, affordable housing, and economic growth.

In Japan, we also found common ground in the areas of managing and effectively responding to natural disasters, as well as the need to understand and prepare for the impact of climate change.  In these areas, we see opportunity for collaboration in academic program design, research, and engagement strategies that will advance resilience.

In sum, our visit identified many opportunities for collaborative learning and research, student exchanges, faculty exchanges, and multi-cultural (and-national) exploration of how culture affects the level and types of community-university engagement.  We look forward in coming months to formalizing relationships and organizing exchanges. We also look forward to conference the College of Urban and Public Affairs in organizing with Ryukoku University in Kyoto later this year on community-based learning.


It was exciting to see how PSU’s local strength in community engagement is an international asset.  A big thanks to Stephen, Margaret and Masami for making this trip a very productive one for our faculty, staff, students and international partners.

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