WMU News

Japanese alumni make 'centi-mental' trip to campus

Oct. 8, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- A delegation of about 20 Western Michigan University graduates has embarked on a "centi-mental" journey from Tokyo to Kalamazoo to get reacquainted with their alma mater and help celebrate its 100th anniversary.

The graduates are members of "WMU Friends in Japan," a group of about 400 alumni and friends spread across Japan. While at the University Oct. 8 through 11, they will present WMU President Judith I. Bailey with a check for $15,000--a centennial gift that will be added to an endowment the group established in 1996 to support scholarships for WMU students to study in Japan as well as study tours, Japanese cultural events, lectures and Japanese studies.

The group also is bringing a letter offering centennial congratulations to WMU from the president of Keio University, which is widely regarded as the "Yale of Japan" and has maintained a special relationship with WMU for 40 years.

The Japanese group came up with idea for its Homecoming week visit "out of the blue," says Jin Abe, admissions/programs specialist in the Office of International Student and Scholar Services.

"These are alumni who have donated funds to WMU and fondly remember the University but haven't seen campus for about 30 years," Abe says.

While on campus, the group will engage in such activities as touring campus; eating in the University's most modern and distinctive residence hall dining facility; and participating in the Parade of Nations, which will take place this year at 1:45 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11, in Waldo Stadium. The parade is part of the pregame show for the annual Homecoming football game, which will be played this year against Bowling Green State University. It features scores of WMU international students marching onto the field carrying colorful flags of the nations and regions represented at the University.

Dr. Howard Dooley, WMU executive director for international affairs, says the group of Japanese visitors has one additional reason for traveling to the campus and celebrating WMU's ties with their nation. He notes they also are coming to honor Dr. Michitoshi Soga, professor emeritus of physics, who worked tirelessly to establish a network of connections in West Michigan for individual visitors as well as for businesses and Japanese partner universities and colleges.

"For 35 years, Michi was 'grandfather' to all the Japanese students who came to WMU," Dooley says. "He made welcome virtually every visitor from Japan who came to Kalamazoo to attend WMU or for business with Upjohn and other business organizations. Our friends in Japan revere Dr. Soga--as do we--and their gifts also signal their special affection for him."

WMU's first Japanese alumnus graduated in 1951, and since 1961, the University has been involved in a number of academic exchange programs. Japanese student enrollment in WMU degree programs has been at about 100 students for the past 15 years, Dooley says, and Japanese nationals are the major clientele for WMU's English as a Second Language Program.

"Many of the Japanese participants in our exchange programs regard their year at WMU as the turning point of their lives," Dooley says, noting that some have gone on to leadership positions in business and government in their home country.

Media note: To arrange an interview with the Japanese alumni returning to campus Oct. 8-11 contact Jin Abe in the Office of International Student and Scholar Services at (269) 387-5859 or <jin.abe@wmich.edu>.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 269 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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