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Macalester Professor to Teach Neuroscience as Resident Director of Japan Study

Published: July 7, 2017

Macalester Professor to Teach Neuroscience as Resident Director of Japan Study

The Nikko Kanaya Hotel, established in 1873, is one of the oldest Western-style hotels in Japan and is well-known for the many famous people who have stayed there while visiting the historic sites of Nikko. This photo of Eric Wiertelak mirrors a picture taken of his grandparents when they visited the hotel 50 years ago.

How do we think, move, see, and learn? What role do our brains play in these activities?

Such questions are at the heart of the teaching and research of Macalester College psychology professor Eric Wiertelak, a behavioral neuroscientist whose wide-ranging interests have included, for example, motor and cognitive aspects of hip-hop, modern, and ballroom dance.

This fall, the topics and classroom examples in Wiertelak's courses will take on a distinctively Japanese flavor, when he spends the 2017-18 academic year in Tokyo as resident director of the Japan Study program.

ACM has long-standing connections with Japan Study and its exchange program with Waseda University. The program offers study abroad for students and visiting positions for faculty from the ACM colleges and member institutions of the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA). It also brings Waseda students and faculty to the ACM and GLCA campuses.

Along with advising students in the program, Wiertelak will teach courses at the Center for International Education at Waseda. Japan Study participants study Japanese language and take elective courses across the curriculum taught in English at the university's School of International Liberal Studies.

Even before starting his year as resident director, Wiertelak's network of colleagues in Japan has grown. "In preparation for this position, I have attended the annual meeting of the Japan Neuroscience Society for the past three years," he said. "Through that society, I've come to know several prominent neuroscientists and to better understand the contributions the country's scientists have made to our understanding of the brain and behavior."

Wiertelak has proposed four course topics to Waseda staff for consideration. All are based on courses he teaches at Macalester — although with added emphasis on Japan — and they examine the neuroscientific background of the topic as well as the influence of culture and society. The possible courses are:

  • Your Brain in Japan — How the mind and behavior result from the activities of the brain, with examples from Japanese history, language, and popular culture.
  • Understanding Umami and More: Washoku, Yoshoku and the Perception of Deliciousness — The science of Umami and how the sense of taste is mediated by the brain and nervous system. 
  • Drugs and Society: How Japan Compares — The pharmacology of psychoactive substances and the social and legal history of drug use in Japan, the US, and other countries.
  • Japan and Its Wildlife: from Pika to Saru, from Hachiko to Gojira — Animal life in Japan, the role of real and fictional animals in Japanese culture, and how to effectively observe the behaviors of both human and non-human animals. 

"I believe that preparing the courses for this opportunity has already broadened my perspective on these subjects," Wiertelak noted, "and I anticipate that the experiences I have in Japan as an educator and year-long visitor will greatly expand on that, and more!"

 

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