Japan Project Center

Variety is the name of the game at the Japan Project Center, which, after initially focusing only on MQPs, has grown into a hub of project activity spanning both grade levels and cities across Japan.

Professor of arts, communications, and humanities Jennifer deWinter inherited the project center a few years ago, and has subsequently built it into a project empire of sorts: it’s the only project center location where students can complete their Humanities & Arts Requirement, IQP, MQP, and now, grad project. If the interest in Japanese-based clubs and independent studies on campus are any indication, the project center’s popularity won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

“These kids grew up on Japanese culture and media and want to participate in this sort of techno-utopia that is their understanding of Japan,” deWinter says. “It’s got a very strong hold on students’ imaginations.”

William Lucca ’20, whose team created a virtual reality game to engage players in physics-based combat, is a prime example of the student she describes. He grew up playing Nintendo and Square Enix games, and was so determined to explore the technology and culture responsible for such an important part of his childhood that he ultimately made the decision to attend WPI because of the Project Center.

“Video games, like all art, are influenced by the culture they’re born from,” he says. “I wanted to see  the place where these games were made and experience it for myself—for my own learning and because I found such a different cultural experience to be exciting.”

While a passion for games and media may spark an interest in the Japan Project Center for some, the reasons students ultimately decide to attend are just as varied as the projects they work on. Students interested in immersing themselves in new cultures and traveling far from home tackled projects focusing on everything from urban and environmental sustainability and cultural heritage preservation to cutting-edge gaming and the social and historical contextualization of Japanese hip-hop.

Audrey Berner ’21, who worked with the nonprofit publication Kyoto Journal to increase its readership, subscriptions, and consumer awareness, says her experience was invaluable in preparing her for life after WPI.

“The IQP teaches you a lot about yourself,” she says, “but also about the people you work with in your team … if you can understand how to read team dynamics and work toward a common goal with others—especially people you don’t always see eye-to-eye with—then you’ll be very prepared to enter the workforce after WPI.”

At WPI it’s common for especially large, in-depth projects to be passed down from IQP team to IQP team, each using its own expertise to build upon the work of previous groups, but students at the Japan Project Center take this concept one step further. A 2018 IQP team worked with Kyoto VR to evaluate its GPS-based augmented reality audio guide through user experience testing, field observations, and interviews. In 2019 an MQP group took the findings of those IQP team members and began building the application they recommended.

Like most aspects of their WPI education, students’ time at the Japan Project Center is holistic—although they’re hard at work, they still find time to explore all parts of Japanese culture, from the food (“Hands down, the food in Japan was the absolute coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” says Berner) to the sights (Lucca and his team climbed Mount Fuji, a trek that mostly took place above the clouds and tree line, something he describes as “absolutely surreal, like being on another planet”), making for experiences more than worth writing home about.

Learn more about WPI’s Global Projects Program here

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