To continue our series highlighting stories from 25 years at the SMU Tower Center, we want to showcase another SMU program that has been a part of the Center for nearly 25 years. In 1996, SMU Tower Center’s Sun & Star Japan and East Asia Program began with a grant from the Sun & Star Foundation to increase awareness of the economic, historical, political, and social trends of Japan and East Asia. Today, the program has grown to provide Asia-related programming, faculty fellowships, academic opportunities, on- campus speakers and an annual symposium held in both the United States and Japan.
We sat down with former Director of the Sun & Star program and current Senior Fellow at the Center, Diana Newton, and current Director of the Program, Dr. Hiroki Takeuchi, on how the Program began and how it has evolved to what it is today.
1) How did the Sun and Star Program emerge at SMU, and what challenges did you overcome to create it?
The Sun & Star Program at SMU was funded by monies left over from an important eponymous cultural event in 1996 hosted by Hitachi and EDS [now HP] to bring business, arts and culture from Japan to Dallas. Named Sun & Star to represent the partnership between Japan – rising Sun – and Texas – Lone Star State – SMU generously matched the Sun & Star gift, and I was fortunate to arrive at SMU the year those funds became available for the Tower Center to spend on programming. Cal Jillson, the director of the Tower Center at the time, hired me to be the first director of the Sun & Star program because the fund was supposed to be spent on Japan-related programming and I had a background in Japan. We began hosting a conference annually on Japanese political economy and national security issues.
2) How did the program evolve after partnering with Hiroki, and how has it expanded to what it is today?
Diana was looking for a partner to help expand the focus to include all of East Asia and China. I found that this was a very good opportunity because at the time, interest in China was rising and many East Asia programs were only focusing on China. Also, SMU was aware of the importance of Asia, and I was passionate about developing programming on the economic, historical, political, and social trends of Asia. We renamed the program to include East Asia and —as far as I know— became the only East Asia program in the nation to include both, making our program unique by exploring East Asia through the lens of Japan.
Hiroki Takeuchi is a fabulous colleague and collaborator, so once he arrived on campus, he brought his high energy and intellect to the Sun & Star Program. We collaborated on speakers and his contacts in the Japanese academic and political realm complemented my contacts in the U.S. policy realm. We worked to keep our topics current and always evolving to reflect the changing dynamic in Japan, the United States and the Asia-Pacific region.
Interestingly, in 2009, U.S. Ambassador Tom Schieffer returned from serving in Japan, and being from Fort Worth, was pursuing opportunities and organizations in the area that brought awareness to Japan. We began to work with him as well as partner with JASDFW to create programs that explored various aspects of U.S.-Japan relations. When Admiral Patrick Walsh moved back to Dallas after retiring from service, last serving as the 59th Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, suddenly we had a kind of policy community on Japan and East Asia. Then, in 2013, we received a large grant from the Japan Foundation. These relationships helped us to bring globally renowned speakers to SMU and set us apart from other Japan and East Asia programs.
3) Can you describe any significant moments for the program?
Over time, the program grew from one afternoon and evening program a year to multiple speakers and events throughout the school year. The most significant moment for me was when we celebrated the 20th year since the inception of the program by hosting a conference at Keio University in Japan. That was the first time that we were able to sponsor a conference not in Dallas, but in Tokyo. It was wonderful to expand our reach and our draw. Since 2016, we have hosted a conference in Japan every other year, and this year’s conference will be our third in Japan.
4) How would you like to see the program grow and evolve over the next 25 years?
We have long talked about publishing the research presented at these conferences. If I could wave a magic wand, I would increase funding of the Sun & Star Program to allow for a staff person and the resources to make that dream a reality. Otherwise, I just hope that it continues to do as it always has done – be a relevant and timely resource that continues to bring the best and the brightest to study, debate and promote Japan and East Asia.
I would like to grow our SMU-in-Japan Summer International Studies Program at Kwansei Gakuin University. Our current program is an immersive experience, where students live with a host family and work on projects with some of the largest Japanese companies including Toyota, Japan Airlines, the Central Japan Railway Company, and ORIX. What makes it a truly unique experience is how students navigate and overcome the language barrier. With many study-abroad programs, students will travel to countries where English is the official language or at least the predominant second language. This is not so with Japan. It’s fun to see the students before the trip and how much they mature after the short time spent in the program.
5) Why is this program important for SMU students and the Dallas community?
Japan and East Asia represent such an important hub of economic and security connections for the United States. Japan is one of our staunchest allies and biggest trading partners, joining us in many policy endeavors around the world. They host U.S. military forces on Japanese soil which enables the United States to continue to ensure freedom of navigation in the Pacific and to protect U.S. global interests. Having a vibrant program that can feature some of the best speakers and thinkers in the world on these topics and this important region allows SMU students and the SMU Community to stay abreast of important issues that affect the economy and the security of Dallas, Texas and the nation. The Sun & Star Program allows us to keep a spotlight on the important developments in Asia.
The Sun & Star Program builds upon SMU’s and the Center’s missions to create innovative learning experiences and practical applications in ethical, global responsibility that shape future leaders. Our programming bridges academic insights and public interests and highlights how the U.S. is connected to the world. We provide undergraduates access to resources that shows how politics and economics work through international relations and corporate governance, developing well-informed citizens, which is paramount for democracy to work.
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