Jon Mark Beilue: Climate science awareness

Jon Mark Beilue Sep 13, 2023
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Jon Mark Beilue: Climate science awareness

WT students take climate change study to Japanese classrooms


West Texas A&M University students Ava Sealy and Jacob Hurst taught classes on environment science at Amarillo College and in the Canyon ISD last year. That was, in a way, the dress rehearsal for taking their act on the road.

And what a long road it was – approximately 6,555 miles.

Sealy and Hurst, under the coordination of Dr. Naruki Hiranuma, associate professor of environmental science, traveled to Japan in July as part of the University’s Study Abroad program.

Actually, it was more teaching than studying as Hurst and Sealy taught 165 students from second to 12th grade over six days in four schools in three cities.

“It was pretty challenging just because of the language barrier,” said Sealy, a junior environmental science student from Hobbs, New Mexico. “But it was super exciting to see a bunch of students enjoy learning about climate.

“We were super hands-on. At one point, we had smoke going everywhere. They thought that was the coolest thing although I never quite understood what they were telling me.”

Collaborating with people in his native country is a project Hiranuma has wanted to lead for a long time, especially since he began teaching at WT in 2016. In this first trip, he intentionally took only took two students in what amounted to a first-year trial to see how it went.

“I was very happy with our modules and being able to teach them and have them understand what you’re trying to convey,” said Hurst, a Canyon native and 2023 graduate in physics who’s now taking graduate courses. “We tried to convey climate awareness and spread knowledge of how climate works in the atmosphere and how gas emissions affect plant life.”


Photo: WT students Ava Sealy and Jacob Hurst, both standing center, and Dr. Naruki Hiranuma, associate professor of environmental science, traveled to several schools in Japan over the summer to teach climate science.

Sealy and Hurst are among a group of Hiranuma’s students who taught outreach lessons to approximately 500 students at elementary and middle schools in Canyon as well as at AC. They have also had booths at two annual events at Amarillo Zoo on climate change.

Taking that same curriculum with them, the WT trio left for Japan on July 2. Before returning on July 11, they taught primarily elementary-age students in the cities of Kumamoto, Fukuyama and Tokushima on the islands of Kyushu, Honchu and Shikoku. There was about 650 miles of travel between the three cities.

The first stop on July 5 was perhaps the easiest – the Kumamoto International School in Kumamoto (pop, 740,000). The 40 fifth- through eighth-graders are skilled in English.

“An ice-breaker,” Sealy said.

“The international school was pretty simple,” Hurst said, “because they knew English pretty well. Once we got outside of that, it was a little more difficult understanding what they were trying to speak about even thought we did have interpreters. But body language was helpful in what they were asking.”

On July 8, it was a smaller group of 20 second- through sixth-graders at Mitsubishi Electric in Fukuyama (pop. 464,000). The final two days were in Tokushima. The first stop on July 9 was Asutamu Land, an interactive science center, for 80 from the broad range of fifth grade through 12th grade, and the final day was Kamikatsu Elementary for 15 fifth- and sixth-graders.

“We wanted to enhance critical thinking skills even at that young age,” Hiranuma said. “This is not like simple math or regular science in trying to come up with the answer. There’s no such definitive answer.

“The objective was not to cover A to Z in climate science, and again, one of the objectives is to increase international public awareness of global climate science.”

There was also a subtle reason to go as well. There was a goodwill ambassador mission to spread a little bit of the Buffalo to young students in the Far East. A classroom of 20 students and three local teachers wearing maroon WT shirts and giving the sign of the Buffalo in the Far East is not a real common occurrence.

“Maybe we influenced a student or two to think about going into a STEM major and travel to WT to get their degree,” Sealy said.

It is an avenue that worked for Hiranuma. He went through traditional schooling and got his undergraduate degree in Japan. After that, he went to Ontario to learn English before arriving at WT in 2003 to pursue his masters in environmental science. He earned his doctorate in atmospheric science from Texas A&M University.


Photo: Students in four schools in three Japanese cities learned from WT students who were on a Study Abroad trip. They taught climate science and spread the word about WT.

Plans are in place to return to Japan over the next two summers, and possibly into other countries not just to teach, but to spread the word on WT.

“It’s a little bit of recruiting, a little bit of a grassroots opportunity for the future,” Hiranuma said. “I basically told many of the Japanese kids to put themselves in situations where they have to use other languages and be part of a different culture.

“It will open up a lot more opportunities. Just being in another country is a great opportunity for them to learn something new. They can stay in Japan, in their comfort zone, but if they want to be outstanding in some field like science, it would be a shortcut for them to do something noble.”

Sealy and Hurst were in a different culture for 10 days. Not all the time was in a classroom. They visited temples, shrines and castles and dabbled in the ancient history of Japan that goes back centuries. Some of that tradition doesn’t go back at all.

“On the first day, they were struggling eating with chopsticks,” Hiranuma said. “But by the last day, they had expertly mastered it. Like our Japanese students, they were quick learners.”

Do you know of a student, faculty member, project, an alumnus or any other story idea for “WT: The Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at .



Top photo: WT students Ava Sealy and Jacob Hurst and Dr. Naruki Hiranuma, associate professor of environmental science, all three standing center, traveled to several Japanese cities to teach elementary students in four schools the basics of climate science.