Meeting a couple hundred students every spring (all first-year women), I have a hard time remembering their names. But I remembered Rikako from day one. Her dynamic personality perhaps? More likely it was her bright green hair. But more on her hair later. Today’s story is about something else.
Rikako is a third-year student now. She has been in my presentation zemi (what we call seminar classes in Japan) for two years. A couple months ago she showed me a PowerPoint she was working on. It was about the “Brain Science of Love.” Lots of information about chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, etc. “Wonderful,” I said. “What class?” It was for her thesis class. The students were supposed to do short presentations on their newly chosen topics, and then write research papers on them, due about a year from now.
I already knew she was planning to do her thesis on brain science. She’d heard me talk about the topic for years and she had borrowed some books on brain science. I also knew she was capable of doing the thesis paper. She is capable of doing pretty much anything she decides to do. I normally dislike the cliché “Thinking outside the box” (the overworked expression, not the concept), but I’ll make an exception when the box is filled with green hair.
However, when I next met her, she seemed a bit glum. Her supervising professor had turned the topic down, saying he didn’t know enough about brain science to advise her (never mind that the point was for HER to learn about the brain science, not him).
“Damn” I thought, and that was the first word I used in a mail to Curtis Kelly when I told him what happened. He already knew Rikako because of her hilarious Flipgrid Green Hair video which you’ll hear about later. Curtis’ reaction was, “Poor Rikako. But let’s make a margarita out of this lemon. Let’s get her to record her presentation and put a link to it in a Think Tank.”
I pitched her the idea and now she’s working on it during spring break. You’ll see in on these pages in a few months. And when it appears, in addition to having a publication, she’ll get a certificate from the JALT BRAIN SIG (sponsors of the Think Tank) for her resumé, just in time for job hunting.
 To our delight, when Marc filled out the certificate, he mistakenly wrote “Watababe” instead of “Watanabe.” We caught it just before publication!
(By the way, the offer of awards is open to you too, if any of your students do something interesting related to brain science. Let us know!)
And now, here is the rest of the hair story. This is how she became known to English teachers all across Japan. At the beginning of her second year, we suddenly went into remote teaching mode because of COVID. In my class, my student’s first assignment was to record a self-introduction on Flipgrid, and then to video comment on at least three peers’ videos. Rikako’s introduction? She told the story of how she went through a rainbow of hair colors the year before and asked for suggestions on the next color. Take a look. Being forced into emergency remote teaching, we teachers discussed useful online tools with each other, and I shared her hair video to show what could be done. Everyone liked it, so it got around, including to Curtis, who put it in some workshops on online teaching. That is why he knew who she was.
Let me add, too, that a few weeks ago, Rikako made another video for incoming students on how to make friends. She recycled her hair story. The video is here.
At times, we all feel lucky to be teachers. I am blessed to have students like Rikako.
Marc Helgesen is a professor at Miyagi Gakuin Women’s University, Sendai. He is author of over 200 article, books and textbooks. He is a founding member of the Mind/Brain/Education SIG. Rikako Watanabe is starting her fourth year in the Dept. of Modern Business at Miyagi Gakuin, Sendai.