The Word in Japan – Faculty Members Take Expertise Overseas

July 7, 2023

While summer may be a time for rest and rejuvenation, UIW faculty members across departments are still hard at work refining their own skills, conducting consequential research, and providing educational opportunities around the globe. Dr. John Hooker, assistant professor of Environmental Science and Dr. Kevin Salfen, professor of Music and assistant dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences are two prime examples, as they took their work and expertise to Japan this summer. 

Dr. John HookerThe trips were twofold for them, with both faculty members providing educational presentations in addition to their other duties abroad. For Dr. Hooker, this work involved fieldwork as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded project on earthquakes.

“In particular I am interested in what kind of natural fluid-flow and mineral reactions affect the size and timing of earthquakes, and so my colleagues from Penn State University and I went to Japan to sample rocks that have been through the earthquake cycle,” he explained.

The research will show what kind of deformation occurs in the rocks that make it a certain distance through the earthquake cycle, and how much deep fluid pressure and flow was involved.

“Knowing these will allow us to more precisely predict how much energy is available for generating earthquakes ... By studying the rocks that have been through the earthquake cycle, we can retrace how much of the plate motion was aseismic (non-earthquake-causing) and how much was seismic, and try to understand why there were differences,” said Dr. Hooker.

Meanwhile, Dr. Salfen traveled to Thailand and Japan for presentations and performances of his dramatic song cycle Stations of Mychal, a moving work about Fr. Mychal Judge, the Franciscan priest who was Victim 0001 on September 11, 2001. The performance in Salaya, Thailand, was at the 48th International Viola Congress, and the performance in Tokyo, Japan, was at the Franciscan Chapel Center at Roppongi Catholic Church.

Faculty in Catholic Church“Our performances of the cycle in Thailand and Japan this summer were so special because we were able to share the work with audiences who were less familiar or even completely unfamiliar with Mychal’s story,” shared Dr. Salfen.

“I think my hope, and the hope of my artistic collaborators in the project, has always been that Fr. Mychal’s spirit can rise above the tragedy of that day and can reach us through it. That line from The Prayer of St. Francis – ‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace’ – is, I hope, something that we ‘pray’ every time we perform Stations of Mychal.”

The two faculty members’ time in Japan also included presentations to international audiences about their chosen areas of study and research. Dr. Hooker delivered a lecture called "Factors producing asynchronous fluid flow and slip behavior in subduction zones" at the annual meeting of the Japan Geoscience Union, a large organization of 51 academic councils related to earth and planetary sciences. The presentation was co-authored by Don Fisher, Professor and Associate Head for Graduate Programs and Research at Penn State.

Dr. Salfen shared best practices in music education with EducationUSA, the comprehensive advising center in Japan. Per the organization’s website, the center “is a one-stop shop for students, parents, teachers, and working adults interested in accessing information on studying at higher education institutions and intensive English programs in the United States.”

Musicians playingDr. Salfen’s presentation focused on three main points: the diversity present on U.S. campuses and how that diversity prepares future musicians for a diverse marketplace and world; how innovative U.S. music programs can be, particularly in their use of technology to assist and transform all aspects of making music; and how the connections students make in U.S. music programs can prepare them for successful international careers.

“The gratifying thing for me as faculty member at UIW is that I can draw so many examples of these qualities in action from our own Department of Music,” he shared.

Of course, it wasn’t all work. Dr. Hooker enjoyed a well-deserved vacation with family when his research and educational responsibilities were wrapped. In true environmental scientist fashion, he lodged at a hotel inside the caldera of Mount Hakone, a large volcano near Tokyo, and soaked in the natural hot springs.

Dr. Salfen looks forward to returning to Japan in the summer of 2024, as he plans to offer a study-abroad program alongside Dr. Lopita Nath, Chair of the History Department and Coordinator of the Asian Studies Program.

“For students enrolled in my Music in Asian Theater and Film course, or Dr. Nath’s History of Japan course, the study-abroad program is a built-in component of the class, but we’re also opening it to other interested students, staff, and faculty,” he explained.

“Our plan is to spend time in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima, so participants will be able to experience Japan at its most modern, at its most traditional, and as a symbol of resilience in the face of tragedy. It has the potential to be a life-changing journey, just as going to Japan for the first time was for me!”

As the University continues in its goal to extend its global reach, it is the work of faculty like Dr. Hooker and Dr. Salfen that carry the UIW Mission into the world.