Introduction to the HELIO Program
This blog post was written by Lee Smith-Feinberg ’19 on being accepted into the HELIO Program this summer…
Why am I sitting on a wooden boat, rowing to the sound of a taiko, and shouting “Yoisa!” in tune with twenty others? It’s because I was invited by the HELIO program, a collaboration between DSIL, Ashoka Japan, and the College of the Atlantic that is seeking to create a new kind of higher education in Japan. After sending in the application, I was very surprised to be accepted since the cohort is only 24 students, and to be honest I still didn’t know much about what was going to happen during the trip. It turns out, after meeting everyone in Hiroshima, I wasn’t alone.
We shortly boarded a ferry to Osakikamijima (大崎上島) a small island in the Seto Island chain. The town was once famous for its wooden ship building, and had many popular ports where ships would wait for the currents to change, however steel ships started gaining popularity, most of their shipyards went out of business since they couldn’t adapt, and the population started to dwindle and age. Currently, about half of the homes on the island are abandoned and the majority of jobs come from the two shipyards on the island, the traditional inn, and agriculture. The goal of our college would be two-fold. Firstly, we want to create an alternative to the currently stifling atmosphere of upper education in Japan. Secondly, we would want the college to be integrated into the community and revitalize the local economy. Our job is to both be model students, as well as help develop the idea for the college more. After learning about the situation, we got to work.
In the first few meetings, we discovered they wanted us to design a college, but gave us completely free reign over what direction to take it. We even discussed not even having a college at first, but just conducting summer study trips or having other short-term programs. Over the next few days we would be constantly shifting plans and ideas of what the college would be, adding to the important “primordial ooze” of thoughts which would eventually form the foundation of the institution. It’s been an incredible journey to actually be able to be part of the very beginnings of a college, when there’s so much enthusiasm and so much opportunity to have an important say in every aspect, from the mission of the institution to what the dorms will look like. While we’ve done a lot of research and brainstorming, the most rewarding times so far have been interacting with the locals. Our workdays have been interviewing and helping local farmers, conducting experiments, and learning more about their lives. We’ve also learned possible ways we could help them, and how they can help us. For example, we worked with a professor to conduct experiments on the soil to test for the density of microorganisms, and provide recommendations to improve their soil health. From doing all of this research, we’ve started solidifying our ideas, and will be presenting them in Hiroshima to a public audience, including the mayor and other important figures. Over the next couple days each group will be finalizing their ideas of what concepts could be applied to the college, and so in my next blog I’ll say how the final presentation went, and share our recommendations!