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UofGH takes inspiring trip to Soka University of America

The four UofGH students with Dr. Sherman
Photo courtesy of Dr. Paul Sherman

Soka (or value-creating) education was founded by reformist Japanese educator Tsunesaburo Makiguchi around the idea that the purpose of education is the happiness of the student. Four University of Guelph-Humber students recently had the opportunity to experience those principles first-hand.

As part of the Soka Education Research Initiative on Global Citizenship (SERI-GC) – a five-year research project launched at UofGH that allows students and faculty to study the philosophy and practices of Soka education and its connection to global citizenship – UofGH students Kathryn Johnson, Amy Piercey, Neve Taylor and Denny Tran were recently afforded the opportunity to attend the Soka Education Conference on the Soka University of America’s beautiful campus in southern California.

Along with Family & Community Social Services Program Head and director of SERI-GC, Dr. Paul Sherman, the students had the chance to meet Soka students, explore illuminating presentations, and dig deeper into the values and core tenets of Soka Education and how it relates to notions of global citizenship.

Afterward, the students came home with plenty of new ideas to ponder and probe.

“(The Soka University of America) students were all so welcoming, grateful for our efforts to attend their conference, and made us feel very comfortable,” recalled Taylor. “We were able to network with the students, connect on social media, and share ideas for future research.

“It was a unique opportunity to hear from so many people presenting their research on such a wide variety of concepts and facets of Soka education,” she added.

The first initiative of its kind to be launched in Canada, SERI-GC is being funded by the Japan-based Makiguchi Foundation for Education, which supports educational exchanges and projects around the world with the goal of continued study of Makiguchi’s ground-breaking pedagogy.

“Attending this conference was a terrific way to jumpstart our research initiative, as the students received what I consider a crash course in the theory and practice of Soka education,” Dr. Sherman said.

“We look forward to strengthening our newfound relationship with Soka University of America, as we have with its sister university in Japan.”

Soka University of America
Soka University of America

Since the initiative is still in its first year, the students have only just begun their exploration of Soka education. As a result, the conference was invaluable in furthering that understanding, while offering lessons that felt directly relevant to what the students had been studying at UofGH.

“Soka education and global citizenship both pertain to studying at UofGH because we’re in a unique learning environment that blends the theoretical knowledge of university studies with experiential learning experiences,” Johnson said. “Nearly every professor I’ve encountered at UofGH is already practising Soka education values in some way, so it’s very interesting to learn more about the philosophy.

“Our campus is also very diverse compared to other universities, so the notion of global citizenship is also reinforced.”

The students found many different highlights in the conference programming.

Piercey particularly enjoyed a keynote presentation delivered by Dr. Ceasar McDowell, whose talk explored how embracing the seemingly unrelated ideas of “empathy” and “design” creates opportunities for the public to shape an improved future.

Dr. Sherman also contributed the presentation: “Seeking the Meaning of Global Citizenship: Findings from Case Study Research of Soka University of Japan.”

All the attending students also noted Soka University’s picturesque campus, which Tran described as a resort-like space, surrounded by hills and forests and dotted with large fountains.

It was the ideas and not the scenery, however, that left the students feeling inspired upon their return to Canada.

“I have pages and pages of notes, but the overarching take-away for me was the significance that relationships have on people’s development and success: caring, nurturing, genuine people who are accountable to one another and motivate each other to be better,” Taylor said.

“Being the first of its kind in Canada, I feel honoured to be part of this initiative and look forward to educating my peers about Soka, global citizenship, and the importance of humanizing our education,” Tran added.

“The thought of having the opportunity to present our research findings during next year’s conference fills me with joy and ambition.”