For many, a truly international experience is beyond their grasp. Then there are those who make it a goal. Dereck Wonnacott, an LSSU junior in computer engineering, has grasped the brass ring not just once, but twice. Derek had been interested in seeing the world since he was very young. His first opportunity travel overseas was as an exchange student in high school. He spent a year in Kumamoto, the capitol city of Kumamoto Prefecture which is located in the northwest region of the prefecture in the center of Kyūshū, the southernmost of the four major Japanese islands. “Opportunities like this don’t come very often in life. When you see one, you have to grab it,” wrote Dereck in an on-line interview. The Sault Ste. Marie resident found that his interest in technology – an area in which Japan has become an icon – led him to make a return visit. “I learned Japanese quite well from my friends the first time, but severely lacked proper grammar and etiquette in my speech,” Dereck explained. He saw learning Japanese as opening doors for him to work internationally in a field that would dovetail nicely with his computer engineering degree and its robotics and automation option. The Japan Center for Michigan Universities (JCMU) is located in Hikone, Shiga Prefecture, in the southern central portion of Honshū Island – the largest of the four Japanese islands. Hikone is on the shore of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake. It is the result of a Michigan-Shiga sister state relationship that began in 1968 and saw the establishment of JCMU in 1989. Lake Superior State University is one of 15 public Michigan universities that comprise the consortium that participates in the JCMU. The study and work loads are heavy during the week, but weekends are a bit lighter, allowing for travel and relaxation. “The last time I lived in Japan I couldn’t speak well enough to feel comfortable traveling far from my host city for the first few months. This time I’m able to travel more because I already know how to speak Japanese and have more time to travel,” Derek commented. He has traveled to Kyoto and explored Nagahama and Hikone. During the month-long December break, he decided not to return to the U.S., but to stay in Japan and show his family around. After classes end in late April, he plans to do more independent traveling before returning home. In the meantime, there are many temples, parks and points of interest to be seen, and several hundred more vocabulary words to memorize.
Dereck Wonnacutt studied for a year in Japan through LSSU's connection with the Japan Center for Michigan Universities. Besides starting out on a major in robotics and computer science, he became fluent in Japanese.
"Lake Superior State is the only robotics program of its kind in the country. I can work up any research or senior project idea with a professor or my advisor. There's no such word as "no". A Japanese company called Fanuc makes most of the robots in our lab. I'd like to roll my senior research project into a career with Fanuc that bridges the two countries and cultures."