MSU President's column for Traill County Tribune

March 11, 2017

Mayville State research team heading for Japan in May


Six Mayville State students and two faculty mentors will be heading for a month-long trip to conduct research in rural Japan in May. Professors Aaron Kingsbury and Lonamalia Parsons Smith and their students have been awarded a $40,000 “ASIANetwork Freeman Student-Faculty Fellows” (SFF) grant. Grant funding will be used to support their month-long trip to Japan, where they’ll conduct research from May 13 to June 14. The group’s project is titled “The future of the back roads and little farm towns in an urbanizing Asia: A case study in exploring cultural change in the rural communities of Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan.” Mayville State’s proposal was one of seven funded in 2017, the 19th year of the SFF program.

Students on the research team with Kingsbury and Parsons Smith are Cherokee Durant, Devils Lake, N.D.; Cheyenne Durant, Devils Lake, N.D.; Ingrid Hefta, Mayville, N.D.; Megan Maassel, Fargo, N.D.; Nicholas Peterson, Rutland, N.D.; and Donte Stevens, Opa-Locka, Fla. Dr. Aaron Kingsbury is an assistant professor of geography at Mayville State, and Lonamalia Parsons Smith is an assistant professor of sociology. The Mayville State group understands little farm towns in the U.S.A. They now seek to investigate the culture and people of smaller and less studied Japanese communities, and in so doing, re-conceptualize their own notions of rurality and explore options for more sustained maintenance of socio-economic vitality in peripheral places.

Asia is urbanizing, and Japan is no exception. Agriculture continues to decline in importance, and people move to urban spaces for better opportunities. In turn, this leaves the countryside marginalized. The Mayville State research team will be working under the broader framework of socio-economic change in rural Japan through case studies in the Kofu Basin of Yamanashi Prefecture. The Kofu Basin has one of the longest histories of horticultural cropping in the country, but it has never been an area known for rice. Rather, its history is that of mulberry and sericulture, peaches, and somewhat unique in Japan, hillsides covered in verdant, pergola-trellised grape vines. Socio-economic change in the region has been constant and often profound.

The projects of individual student research team members will focus on the impact of the declining farm sector on the rise of wild boar, health care in a greying society, K-12 education in smaller towns, innovative marketing by the local wine industry in revitalizing rural economies, and LGBT social justice concerns in provincial places The team's understanding of the myriad of cultural landscapes and the changes affecting rural communities will be documented with a collaboratively scripted and student-directed film which will be shot with a prosumer camera and a drone. 

Experiences in Japan will include volunteering at a rural LGBT pride event, assisting farmers of a local grape growing cooperative in light farm work, interacting with pupils at various K-12 institutions, joining in a choir group for elderly women, and collaborating to produce the film.

Students will use their research as the basis for presentations on campus, in the community, and at academic conferences; to frame undergraduate research journal publications and as the foundation for graduate school foci, professional teaching portfolios, and careers in international business. Two students will pass their FAA sUAS license exams to use drones professionally, and the group’s film will be submitted to a number of regional festivals.

Would you be interested in helping these students garner the full Japan experience? The grant will cover all the expenses directly related to the research project, but there is no additional funding for cultural experiences. You can help these students make the most of the trip by incorporating cultural experiences with some additional spending money. These kinds of experiences are very expensive in Japan, so any help the students can get will be greatly appreciated. You can make a donation and learn more about the project and student researchers by going to or calling 701-788-4750.

To help in this regard, Mayville State’s own John Klocke, executive director of the MSU Foundation, will be performing a “Sounds of Sinatra!” concert in the MSU Old Main Theatre, beginning at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 30. Tickets sell for $25 each and can be purchased by calling 701-788-4864 or going to

We are delighted that our students will have this opportunity of a lifetime, and commend Aaron Kingsbury and Lona Parsons Smith for helping them to achieve it. Please consider a contribution to this outstanding group. We look forward to their return to campus and community and learning all about their experiences in Japan.