Participants in the HELIO 2016 program join local high school students for a walk around the Seto Inland Sea Island of Ōsakikamijima, Japan, where the program was held.Participants in the HELIO 2016 program join local high school students for a walk around the Seto Inland Sea Island of Ōsakikamijima, Japan, where the program was held.

Their task: help launch a new era in Japanese higher education by co-designing a new Japanese college.

A proposed Japanese college based on College of the Atlantic’s approach to education and community held their inaugural courses this summer with help from COA students and faculty. Japanese program organizers are headed to COA this September for an inside view of the workings of the college and the relationships between COA, Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, and the surrounding towns.

The Human Ecology Lab and Island Odyssey (HELIO) brought 24 students from around the world to the Seto Inland Sea Island of Ōsakikamijima for a two-week program focused on the dynamics and intersection of human ecology and Japanese higher education. Students took part in cutting edge workshops, trainings, and exploratory meetings with local community members with participants from the global Ashoka U network and Japanese universities.

Their task: help launch a new era in Japanese higher education by co-designing a new Japanese college.

HELIO students meet with David Green, of Ashoka, during the 2016 program in the Seto Inland Sea Island of Ōsakikamijima, where they worked to design a new college.HELIO students meet with David Green, of Ashoka, during the 2016 program in the Seto Inland Sea Island of Ōsakikamijima, where they worked to design a new college.

Drawing inspiration from College of the Atlantic and Ashoka, both of which have been educating and supporting social innovators for decades, HELIO organizers gathered the group to launch their plans to create an American-accredited institution of higher education that would present an alternative to the Japanese model of lecturing and compartmentalization, and help usher in an age of educational reform.
COA Sharpe-McNally Chair of Green and Socially Responsible Business Jay Friedlander teaching during the HELIO 2016 program in the Seto Inland Sea Island of Ōsakikamijima.COA Sharpe-McNally Chair of Green and Socially Responsible Business Jay Friedlander teaching during the HELIO 2016 program in the Seto Inland Sea Island of Ōsakikamijima.The college would take much from COA’s model, with a student-driven, self-directed curriculum that relies on extensive fieldwork, and community-based problem solving. This would be a novel approach in Japan, and one that the Japanese organizers of this project say is a necessary one.

“Interdisciplinary practices and perspectives will be leveraged to design the institutional, curricular, and partnership foundations for a new kind of higher educational institution - one that will help Japan prosper in a world that links the local with the global,” according to COA academic dean Ken Hill, one of the teachers in Japan this summer.

HELIO leaders included Dr. Hiromi Nagao, former president of Hiroshima Jogakuim University and member of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Science and Technology; Dr. Koichi Kimoto, professor of Geography at Kwansei Gakuin University; and Kensuke Onishi, founder and CEO Peace Winds Japan. The project is supported by local officials, including the Mayor of Ōsakikamijima, Yukinori Takata.

Takata, Nagao, Kimoto, and others will travel to COA the first week of September to gain first-hand knowledge of the workings of the college, as well as speak with local businessmen and political leaders about the integration of a small college with an island community very similar to theirs in Japan.

HELIO students worked in cross-cultural teams to co-design and develop ideas connected to re-imagining the future of global and local education and ecological systems, and then present their ideas to local and regional leaders.

HELIO 2016 participants gather after practicing Zen meditation at a Buddhist temple on the Seto Inland Sea Island of Ōsakikamijima.HELIO 2016 participants gather after practicing Zen meditation at a Buddhist temple on the Seto Inland Sea Island of Ōsakikamijima.

“We were tasked to dive deep into the community…talk with the locals, visit different sites and generate ideas of what the ideal education model for the island would be,” COA student Clément Moliner-Roy ’19 wrote on his blog. The experience of working within the island community, he said, was inspiring and exciting.


HELIO 2016 students prepare for their public presentations as the program nears its conclusion. Students utilized space in several areas around the Seto Inland Sea Island of Ōsakikamijima, including the maritime high school, above.HELIO 2016 students prepare for their public presentations as the program nears its conclusion. Students utilized space in several areas around the Seto Inland Sea Island of Ōsakikamijima, including the maritime high school, above.“What made the fieldwork productive was that the team of students were incredible,” Moliner-Roy wrote. “The group was extremely diverse - businessmen, artists, environmentalists - with the common hopes of making the world better. You could literally ask anyone in the group, ‘How do you want to make the world better?’ Everyone had completely unique dreams and stories; a few owned non-profit organizations fighting for food security, a few worked for business incubators, and others were involved with various social businesses. Never before had I felt so well surrounded by leaders.”

Students in the HELIO program represented colleges such as Brown, Fordham, and Western Washington universities, Hamilton and Babson colleges, and Wilfrid Laurier and Dublin City universities. A total of eight students from COA and eight students from Japan were also included in the group.

HELIO 2016 comprised extensive local fieldwork with the residents of the Seto Inland Sea Island of Ōsakikamijima, Japan, just as the program at the proposed new college would.HELIO 2016 comprised extensive local fieldwork with the residents of the Seto Inland Sea Island of Ōsakikamijima, Japan, just as the program at the proposed new college would.