Learning Cluster Fair 2019

January 30, 2019
Image of students at a booth at the Learning Cluster fair.

The 2019 Learning Cluster Fair showcases the impressive field and service-learning Soka University students participate in over the 3.5-week winter block period. Students experienced what it means to be global citizens, tackling various issues by bridging theory and practice together and formulating educated and constructive responses or actions to these issues. Sponsored by Academic Affairs, the event was held on Wednesday, January 30, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in the SUA dining hall and front patio.

This year’s Coordinator of the 2019 Learning Clusters and Professor of Psychology Seiji Takaku opened the four-hour Learning Cluster Fair and thanked the Learning Cluster faculty, students, and staff for their participation and the vital support from the Luis and Linda Nieves Family Foundation. Mr. Nieves and his daughter also made a special visit to explore the LC Fair this year and stopped at each table to visit with students about hear about what they learned during their learning clusters.

Learning cluster students displayed their research findings and perspectives sharing their concerns on regional, national, and international issues with the greater community of SUA. Human rights, including children’s rights, ethnic and gender identity, peace, justice, conservation, science, and economics, were central exhibit themes featured in vibrant poster displays and sophisticated computer-based presentations and films, as well as a live theatrical production focusing on the lives of migrants seeking political asylum.

Below are summaries of the 2019 Learning Clusters:

The Culture of Peace | Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Distinguished Visiting Scholar

For Ambassador Chowdhury’s ninth year teaching his Culture of Peace learning cluster, his class presented an inspiring and educational table. The class studied the historical background and conceptual context of the culture of peace and its evolution within the United Nations system and the focus on women, children, peace and human security. The cluster’s table featured student-created, informative, and well-designed posters reflecting the class curriculum including sustainable development goals and eight action areas to promote a culture of peace. 

Basic Science Laboratory Skills | Zahra Afrasiabi, Associate Professor of Chemistry

Science laboratories can be very complex and a little intimidating. In this learning cluster, we had a chance to help students learn basic laboratory skills and build their confidence by teaching how to apply different techniques for routine lab work. Students prepared several skincare products from natural ingredients in the lab, which provided an opportunity for them to practically use the theoretical knowledge gained in the course. It helped the students to investigative various skills and eventually apply them to a specific problem.

The Politics of Disneyland | Peter Burns, Professor of Political Science 

The learning cluster table on the topic of the Politics of Disneyland, taught by Professor Peter Burns, presented to the audience the idea of Disneyland park being an agent of political socialization, creating certain images and ideas that were imprinted within once perception of American political culture and American history. The table presented two posters with photos taken at the park representing ideas of patriotism, and cooperation with big corporations. The group also presented a short video clip, about different representations of American politics and history within the park. The video was centered around two most patriotic attractions at Disneyland, the “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” and the “Flag Retreat Ceremony.” Students at the table were eager to answer the questions of the audience and share their findings of the distorted, culturally erased, and white-centered representation of the US at Disneyland.​

Contributed by Arslan Kasimov, SUA student

Introduction to Geographic Information Systems | Monika Calef, Associate Professor of Physical Geography

In the Introduction to Geographic Information Systems learning cluster, students learned about performing spatial analyses using ArcGIS Pro by ESRI. For their final project, students got to create a map on a topic of their choice; this meant they had to find the data on their topic, convert it to make it match, and then create a meaningful and legible map. 

Spanish in California | Pablo Camus-Oyarzun, Assistant Professor of Spanish Language and Culture

In this learning cluster, students explored the relationship between language, culture, and space in Southern California. The group traveled to San Diego, Santa Ana, and Los Angeles where they interviewed bilingual high school students and explored the linguistic landscape of the Latino neighborhoods.

Marine and Coastal Citizen Science | Lisa Crummett, Assistant Professor of Biology

In the Marine and Coastal Citizen Science learning cluster, teams of three students showcased what they did for their final project with PowerPoint slides documenting their findings. Each student tackled a different issue related to human impacts on ocean environments that are either currently being addressed or could be addressed with citizen science. Each project involved data analysis, often data collected by citizen scientists, and a thoughtful conclusion based on that analysis. This LC also featured a photo-slide show on a TV screen that exhibited our many field trips including whale and dolphin cruise observations, a citizen science cruise, and multiple tide pool bioblitzes.

Radical Media and Democratization | Tomas Crowder-Taraborrelli, Visiting Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies

The topic of our learning cluster was Radical Media and Democratization. Our multimedia Learning Cluster Fair presentation reflected the research that went into our field trip to the Bay Area to explore independent media outlets. Students created a Facebook page for their Soka radio work. They also covered the Women’s March in Los Angeles, which occurred during our LC. In the Bay Area, students visited TV stations and radio stations including KQED, KALX, and Mutiny Radio. Our LC fair booth included photographs and excerpts of interviews with the documentary filmmaker James LeBrecht.​

Death, Dying, and Beyond | Danielle Denardo, Assistant Professor of Sociology

The table for the Death, Dying, and Beyond learning cluster course displayed posters that the students created as part of a research project for the course. The students also used the table to thematically display information and pictures from our field trips (Museum of Death, Kali Mandir temple, mortuary, and cemetery) and guest speakers (county coroner, hospice nurse, spiritualist historian, and grief counselor).

Garbology: Managing Waste at SUA | Robert Hamersley, Associate Professor of Microbiology

Professor Hamersley and his students presented the results of their Learning Cluster entitled Garbology: Managing Waste at SUA. Students conducted waste audits: actual measurements of what is being thrown away at SUA. They found that waste was dominated by disposable coffee cups, paper towels and napkins, and disposable drink bottles. They also found that trash bins contained more than 35% recyclable materials, and that the recycling bins contained more than 25% trash. However, they also found out that SUA only recycles paper that is disposed of in special paper recycling bins and cardboard boxes, and that all other recycling bins are being disposed of as trash. At least part of the problem is that the recycling bins are so heavily contaminated with trash. If the University is to increase the amount of waste diverted from landfills, we need to find ways to use less disposable paper and plastic products, and to educate students, staff, and faculty to sort their trash and recycling correctly.

English-Japanese Translation | Osamu Ishiyama, Associate Professor of Japanese Language and Culture

In this learning cluster, students got hands-on experience on translation between English and Japanese through various group projects and frequent in-class presentations. Projects they worked on include a novel by Dazai Osamu, a reality TV show, films, and anime. This class also featured two guest speakers. Dr. Tomoko Takahashi gave a fascinating lecture on self-translation based on her books and research. The class also had a chance to speak with Masako Fukutani (SUA class of 2017) who is currently completing her master’s degree in translation/interpretation at Middlebury Institute for International Studies at Monterey.

The Group Dynamics & Contemporary Society | Jennifer Lee, Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology

The Group Dynamics & Contemporary Society learning cluster offered students an opportunity to develop an in-depth understanding of group dynamics from a systemic perspective and to study their own behaviors in groups. Throughout the course, students examined theories of group development, power and authority, leadership and obedience, dynamics between and among groups, and the interplay of sociocultural identities and group dynamics. For the Learning Cluster Fair, students created several posters that showcased their final research projects on decision-making in groups, terrorism and groupthink, and racial discrimination in the US education system. Visitors at the fair were invited to participate in a student-led experiential exercise designed to demonstrate the impact of positive and negative feedback on group performance.​

Exploring Death and Life Through Film | Xiaoxing Liu, Professor of Chinese Language and Culture

After intensively talking about death, all of the students have expressed a passionate and thoughtful outlook of life and emphasized the significance of “seize the day.” They developed sincere respect and appreciation for the people who take care of deceased human beings. Students took major responsibilities in teaching this LC by summarizing the readings, selecting certain films, and organizing classroom activities. The final projects showing at the LC Fair indicate their growth and maturity.

Women, Peace, and Security | Lisa MacLeod, Associate Professor of International Studies

The Women, Peace and Security learning cluster provided students with an opportunity to learn about sexual violence in armed conflict. The cluster’s contribution to the learning cluster fair consisted of four posters. One poster explored the challenges faced by children born of wartime rape. A second examined efforts by women in Bosnia to seek justice and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes. A third poster examined efforts to end impunity for sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A fourth focused on issues related to sexual violence during and after armed conflict in Liberia.

Water Problems | Anthony Mazeroll, Professor of Biology

The students presented their findings on the issues dealing with water quality in the Salton Sea (the largest lake in California). The lake is located south of Palms Springs in the Imperial and Coachella valleys. The lake receives its water from agricultural runoff and untreated sewage water from Baja California, thus the water quality is poor. Salton Sea is now drying up due to the fact that it is receiving less water from ag sources. This is causing health problems from the toxic dust that is kick up from the dried sea.

Refugee Resettlement in California | Tetsushi Ogata, Visiting Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies

The learning cluster on Refugee Resettlement in California organized field trips to visit 11 civil society organizations working in refugee and asylee issues in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Orange County. At one stop, students went to 1951 Coffee Company (which took its name from the 1951 Refugee Convention) in Berkeley, where all the baristas are refugees or asylees. During the LC Fair, students showcased their research based on the stories they had heard during the field trips, analyzing the effectiveness of refugee resettlement process, the role of Islamophobia and its impact on Muslim refugees today, discrimination against LGBT refugees, and stereotypes and (mis)perceptions associated with the notion of refugees. A group of students also performed a play, So We Ran.

Arts and Poverty | Nalini Rao, Associate Professor of World Art

The learning cluster offered by Nalini Rao was on Arts and Poverty in which students examined works of painting, sculpture, photography in two museums that portrayed poverty and its social effects. By analyzing those works and relating it to what they witnessed in the homeless shelters, students worked on team projects that could inspire others to feel for the poor. These included musical compositions and artworks that were moving, insightful, and creative.

Brazil’s Great Disaster and Possible Redemption | Ian Read, Associate Professor of Latin American Studies

The students of the learning cluster Brazil’s Great Disaster began with this question: What caused the worst natural calamity in the Americas in the last 300 years and why has it been mostly forgotten? The students spent the first two days designing a rigorous syllabus. Following two weeks of lecture, discussion, presentations, essays, and finally a visit to the UCLA research library, students began to turn their attention to how a new disaster (e.g., drought, famine, and disease) is likely to occur in the same place today. Drought is cyclical in northeastern Brazil and potentially exacerbated by climate change.

Stereotypes: Mexicans in the National US Imaginary | Veronica Quezada, Assistant Professor of Spanish Language and Culture

Through scholarly texts, articles, documentaries/ films, and first-person accounts, Stereotypes: Mexicans in the National US Imaginary studied Mexico-US relations and the wave of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination the Mexican community has experienced and continues to experience in the United States. First, students analyzed in detail historical milestones to illustrate the presence and active involvement of the Mexican community in the United States: The US-Mexico War, the Bracero Program, the participation of Mexican Americans in national defense and wars, and the civil rights movement of the 60s. Then, they investigated the current situation of the Mexican and Chicano communities in the social and political spheres of the United States; as well as Mexico’s own incurrence of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination, especially in Tijuana (Mexico-US border) with Central American migrants. Studying Mexican and Chicano history and identity on a cultural and humanistic level helped the ultimate purpose of the LC: to deepen students’ understanding of concepts which are socially constructed and end up in the stigmatization of certain groups in the National imaginary, and to identify and promote constructive inter-group relations.​

The Art of Filming Live Theater | Sandrine Siméon, Assistant Professor of French Language and Culture

This learning cluster explored the art and implications of filming theater. Students attended a broadcast from London’s National Theater, visited a recording studio, and staged a short play filmed with the help of a professional crew. Students reported that the course boosted their public-speaking confidence, strengthened their collaborative work skills, and that learning about an interdisciplinary/alternative object of study fostered creative thinking, new meanings, and ideas. Further, experiential and field learning helped them cultivate unique investigative abilities and kinesthetic modes of learning.​

Image of student filming for Learning Cluster