David Janes: Creating Community Through East/West Relationships

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Our Neighbors

by Linda Viertel – 

David JanesIn 1999, when David Janes was recruited by the non-profit, International Partnership for Service Learning in New York City, he and his wife, Patty (Vice President, Science, Math, and Art, Scholastic Classroom Magazines), “couldn’t find a place I really loved.” When he happened to take Exit 9, he parked on Tarrytown’s Main Street, walked up the street and said to himself, “This is where I want to live.” He went to a local realtor and rented an apartment on the spot. Now living in Rivercliffe with his wife and eight-year-old son, he shuttles back and forth to Japan as the Senior Advisor for Institutional Development at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST).

His original New York City job at the International Partnership for Service Learning, a pioneer in the field of combining academic coursework and volunteer service, was recruiting college-aged students for study abroad and also for service in the community. The experience for his recruits brought into the classroom “an intimate connection between academic study and the reality of the world the students were living in,” he said.  But, after two years, he missed Japan, a country he had studied in twice before: first as a summa cum laude undergraduate at Mary Washington College (where he earned a B.A. in Religion), then as a Rotary scholar at Doshisha University in Kyoto, after graduate school at the University of Hawaii (where he earned an M.A. in Asian Religions). Janes, who is fluent in Japanese, is also a graduate of the Japan Center for Michigan Universities in Hikone, Japan and the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (where he earned an M.A. in International Affairs). After earning 3 M.A.s, he is currently a Ph.D Candidate in Sociology at The New School for Social Research.

For the next 18 years, Janes became the Director of Foundation Grants and Assistant to the President at the United States-Japan Foundation. He led the Foundation’s grant-making programs and represented the Foundation to potential and current grantees. There he also created a national recognition program for K-12 educators in the U.S. who demonstrated exemplary and innovative teaching on Japan, its language, and its culture. He helped to “expand kids’ world views, train teachers, create journalist exchanges, initiate documentary films, fund think tanks, and worked on high level security issues of concern for Japan and U.S. relations.

Looking for a way to build on his skills and help Japan in a different way, he accepted a position with OIST, a five-year-old graduate university project of the Japanese government. Janes describes Okinawa as housing 70% of the U.S. military operations in Japan (approximately 40,000 personnel), but it is one of the poorest prefectures in the country. Japan sees this new university as global in nature, creating a new future for Okinawa and Japan, an intellectual hub dealing with the world’s most pressing problems and happening in one of the most unexpected places. Faculty and students come from around the world; the university is completely interdisciplinary with plans to double in size in the next five years. Built into its DNA, in addition to being first-class in scientific study, the institute must help Okinawans by reaching out to the schools. Scientists teach in middle schools while sparking innovation and bringing new businesses to the city.

Some of the issues OIST is tackling are the most pressing in today’s world: how to create new energy sources, cure the Ebola virus, restore parts of the environment we have destroyed, deal with artificial intelligence and research cognitive robotics.

In addition to his position in Okinawa, Janes, along with his colleague, Pleasantville resident Stomu Miyazaki, recently launched a new project called EngageAsia, a non-profit organization whose aim is to “utilize education to facilitate understanding between and among American and Asian teachers and students with a mission of fostering peace through education.” On the 70th anniversary of World War II’s end, his goal has strong significance. He is passionate about the potential role educators can play in building understanding in young people. To that end, his program provides high quality training for teachers who can be catalysts in breaking down walls.

Janes started his program with two teachers: a third-grade teacher from New Rochelle and a middle school art teacher from Rockland who, after intense cultural research, lived in Taiwan, visiting classrooms and art studios. During multiple workshops, they interacted with nine Taiwanese teachers with the hope of bringing Taiwanese educators to America in 2019. In the near distant future, Janes hopes to bring all of the participants to Japan to join with teachers in the Pacific Rim and create a network to learn about East/West cultures and best practices in education. It is his firm hope that, after 10 to 20 years, “the community will grow and have a ripple effect.”

Instead of dividing our cultures, Janes “wants to build trust, community, and break down barriers,” he explains. “That has been the history of my professional life.” At OIST he facilitates bringing teachers from all over the world, from different faiths, of different colors and cultures, but all coming together based on a professional commitment to science. “EngageAsia,” he says, “brings teachers together to become friends, develop community, cultivate empathy and pass these common human capacities on to their students.”

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