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Akiko Jones scholarship to help students study in Japan

BGSU and the northwest Ohio community owe Akiko Kawano Jones a debt of gratitude for all she has done over the years, from teaching countless students Japanese to promoting business connections between the United States and her native country.

But, typically modest, it is Jones who feels the need to give back. She recently established the Akiko Kawano Jones Study Abroad Scholarship to enable students to study in Japan. The need-based award will be given beginning this fall.

She and her husband, Dr. Eric Jones, a retired faculty member from the College of Education and Human Development, had previously established the Marguerite and J. Charles Jones Memorial Teacher Education Scholarship, in 2007, in honor of Eric Jones’s parents, who were also educators.

Now it is Akiko Jones’s turn. “After 31 years of teaching here I wanted to show my gratitude to the community,” Jones said.  “I want to return something to my home, because I really feel like BGSU is my home. This is a way to bridge the two countries that I love.”

The gift will also substantially boost the University’s annual Family Campaign, through which faculty, staff and retirees donate to BGSU.

“We are quite fortunate to have supportive faculty members who make our Family Campaign successful year after year,” said Shumiala Kinnear, development. “But there is no doubt that this couple is extraordinary when it comes to their support of BGSU.”

Akiko Jones had always planned to create a scholarship when she eventually retires, she said, but her plans sped up after she was named the 2013 Teacher of the Year in the post-secondary category by the American Association of Teachers of Japanese. In presenting her the award, the association cited her “quality and innovative teaching, service to the profession and to the community, participation in professional development activities, and advocacy for your program and Japanese language education as a whole.”

“Humbly I received this award,” Jones said, “and certainly I could not have received that kind of award without having the students, and the administrators and my faculty colleagues. My colleagues have trusted me to be the director of the Asian Studies Program for 10 years, and the deans have been supportive of Asian studies and Japanese studies.

“I thought about what I could do, and I decided I wanted to help as many students as possible to go to Japan to really see it and understand what we’re studying,” she said. “It can be difficult financially for them, so I decided to do something to help.”

Remarkably, having achieved the professional pinnacle of receiving the award, and when she could easily retire (and despite her children’s entreaties to), she said, “The award has given me more energy to teach. I’m so energized by the students and I just love to teach. Really, at the last class of every semester I have tears in my eyes.”

She instructs her students in not only the Japanese language, but also exposes them to Japanese art, philosophy, food, and culture because she believes language and culture are inseparable.

Part of the magic of her teaching is that she engages students far beyond the classroom. She has a talent for bringing people together in ways that forge bonds between them, from working together on projects to travel.

Each semester she invites members of the Japanese Club, which she founded, to her home for traditional Japanese meals, and students accompany her on month-long summer trips to Japan. She is also part of the Peace Studies Program and has taken students in that program to Hiroshima every other year since 2006.

Business students with internships with Japanese companies (sometimes found with her help) benefit from introductions and guidance from Jones.

Even students not in Japanese studies are bolstered by her support. When art major Adam Goldberg went to Japan in 2011 to study glassblowing, he received guidance from Jones. “I could e-mail her with questions and she gave me so much good information and advice,” he said gratefully.

“My students help me plan events, and the relationship between us, I think, helps with retention, more than just being in class together,” Jones said. “We also have the Japanese Club, and we plan events like the Ohanami (the Cherry Blossom Festival). I couldn’t do that without my students’ help.”

With traditional Japanese food, games and crafts, Ohanami has become a popular outing for families as well as students and Japanese people living here. Indeed, the annual event, now in its 13th year, has outgrown several campus venues and at last count had 600 people in attendance, some coming from as far away as Pennsylvania and Michigan. “People had to line up,” she recalled, chuckling.

This year’s festival will take place from 2:30-6 p.m. Sunday (April 6) in 101 Olscamp Hall and, as always, is free and open to the public.

As with nearly everything else Japanese on the Bowling Green campus, Jones was instrumental in the University’s receiving the majority of the cherry trees. Thanks to her relationship with alumni living in Japan, in 2001 a group of them donated four-dozen trees to beautify the newly created Alumni Mall and serve as a lasting symbol of the relationship between the U.S. and Japan, just as the original trees were donated to the U.S.

To promote cultural understanding, Jones has organized visits from Japanese artists and performers, and has maintained a close relationship with a succession of Japanese consular-generals in Detroit, which has resulted in many opportunities for BGSU. Recently, the University received a gift of 28 valuable calligraphic scrolls from the consulate-general, which will be displayed on a rotating basis on campus. She also works closely with the JET program at the consulate, which helps students who want to travel to Japan to teach English.

In 2000, Jones was chosen by Ohio Governor Bob Taft to be part of his first foreign trade mission, to Japan. She served as a translator and cultural interpreter, and met with representatives from businesses and universities, along with BGSU alumni there.

She has helped engineer exchange agreements with several Japanese universities and is always on the lookout for more, providing ever more opportunities for study and cultural exchange.

Closer to home, she has sent her students to local elementary schools to help tutor Japanese students in English.

Jones also promotes the region’s economic growth by collaborating with area business members. Over the years she has assisted Japanese companies looking to open a business in the Bowling Green area, and she helps organize the Nakama no Kai, a yearly conference that brings Japanese and American businessmen together to share ideas. The most recent conference was held Nov. 21, 2013, at the Toledo Museum of Art.