Mercer, Japanese University Sign High-Level Agreement

University of Aizu President Dr. Shigeaki Tsunoyama, seated at left, and Mercer President William D. Underwood, seated at right, sign a general high-level agreement on March 16. The presidents are flanked by Dr. Thomas Orr, left, a professor at the University of Aizu, and Dr. Marjorie Davis, a Mercer professor, who helped to precipitate the agreement.
University of Aizu President Dr. Shigeaki Tsunoyama, seated at left, and Mercer President William D. Underwood, seated at right, sign a general high-level agreement on March 16. The presidents are flanked by Dr. Thomas Orr, left, a professor at the University of Aizu, and Dr. Marjorie Davis, a Mercer professor, who helped to precipitate the agreement.
Mercer President William D. Underwood and Dr. Shigeaki Tsunoyama, president of the University of Aizu, a Japanese engineering university, signed a general high-level agreement on March 16, laying the groundwork for an exchange program between the two schools.

“The ability to communicate effectively across cultural barriers and technological fields collectively enables today’s graduates to succeed in a highly competitive and specialized global economy,” said Dr. Eric Spears, director of international programs at Mercer. “A new collaboration between the University of Aizu in Japan and Mercer will enable graduates from both universities to do just that – to be more competitive and to succeed in the ‘flattened’ world economy. It will also afford faculty from both universities opportunities to do scholarly research about such collaborations and participate in them as well.”

Aizu is an international engineering school based several hundred miles north of Tokyo. It is focused on computer and electrical engineering and its graduates have already launched a number of companies in the area around the school, while other companies have relocated to the vicinity. Should the Mercer agreement blossom into a full exchange program, it will only be Aizu’s third in the United States —  the others being with Stanford University and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Aizu’s international focus and student body make it an ideal spot for collaboration and exchange with other international partners, said Dr. Thomas Orr, director of Aizu’s Center for Language Research, who attended the ceremony with Dr. Tsunoyama.

“Many of our classes are in English, because that is the international language of business – particularly in information technology,” Dr. Orr said. “A partnership would also be an excellent opportunity for our students and Mercer’s students to collaborate on projects in an international environment, as well as for exchange among students and faculty.”

Dr. Tsunoyama said that while his university would be an ideal partner for a collaborative project and exchange program among engineers and technical communicators, it also offers a diverse area for other exchange possibilities. The university’s location among a number of flourishing technology companies could mean an opportunity for Mercer business students to intern at international companies, and it could also be a place for cultural and historical study. Aizu’s prefecture is rich in history and was the last area in Japan to be a part of the Samurai culture.

A number of Mercer faculty from the School of Engineering and its Technical Communication Department were on hand for the event as well. Dr. Orr and members of Mercer’s technical communication faculty have collaborated on research and other projects. The universities began talks following a visit in the fall to the University of Aizu by Dr. Marjorie Davis, professor of technical communication and former chair of the Department of Technical Communication.

“Engineers and others are already working together in global, virtual teams,” Dr. Davis said. “As Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat describes it, knowledge work is not bound by national borders. In the School of Engineering at Mercer, we are working to be sure our graduates have a broader knowledge of different cultures and regions. The agreement with the University of Aizu is one step towards collaboration between students in Japan and in Macon. Faculty and students are looking forward to exchanging visits, working on team research and collaborating virtually with each other.”

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