Eyeing the East

Alex Millar blazes a trail for students to live and study in Japan

By Tim Ertle

When Pamela Mason, Ph.D., had Alex Millar ’10 in her Japanese politics class, she knew he was extremely passionate about the subject because of the enthusiasm he displayed during each class.

“Sometimes students take classes, and it’s just another class they have to take to graduate, but when I saw Alex each time my class met, I could tell Japanese politics was something he truly was interested in,” Mason says.

Millar in Japan

It was that same passion that led him to create the Alexander C. Millar Scholarship for Study in Japan, an endowed scholarship that allows other students to have similar experiences he had during his time at Carroll. Millar worked with his employer, Mitsui & Co. USA, Ltd., which has a long-standing partnership with John Carroll, to establish a fund that would be matched by the company and continue to help students for decades to come.

It’s one of two funds Millar established, along with his scholarship in the history department.

“Alex’s gift will build over the years,” Mason says. “It’s a real commitment to the University and says a lot about how he experienced John Carroll and the value of his education. It also says a lot about the East Asian Studies program, which aims to help students learn and keep on learning for life.”

Much of Millar’s learning took place in Japan.

“You can talk about Japan all you want, but for me, getting over there was important,” he says. “You can hear things repeatedly about a different country, but until I was physically in Japan, I wasn’t able to completely understand it. Once I lived in the culture and experienced it, I better understood Japan.”

Susan Long, Ph.D., whose passion for Japan rubbed off on Millar, hopes his gift will help other students, even those with financial constraints, experience Japan in the same way.

“Although the JCU-Japan programs are set up to allow all of a student’s financial aid to be used for the semester or year overseas, additional expenses, such as airfare, may be a burden to some families, and working on independent research may require additional materials and travel expenses,” Long says. “With the Millar Scholarship, the East Asian Studies program gains resources to encourage students who want to take on the challenges of study and research in Japan, which, in turn, strengthens the quality of our program.”

The Fairlawn, Ohio, native spent six months in Japan in 2008, living with a host family that sent their son to John Carroll for a year.
While working at his host family’s fashion design store, Millar attended universities in Tokyo and Nagoya, taking classes in Japanese language and business management.

“It never hurts to see another perspective of what you’re studying. It was good for me to immerse myself and see what I learned about myself,” he says.

In a foreign country and 6,500 miles from home, Millar kept in touch with friends and family in the United States through Skype and Facebook but sometimes found it difficult because of the 14-hour time difference.

Carving a niche
Millar’s immersion experience and credits he earned while in Japan was credited toward an interdisciplinary degree in East Asian Studies, a program he self-designed.

“I started thinking I wanted to be a business major, so I was on that track; but during the spring semester of my freshman year, I switched to history,” he says. “I was taking international business courses, but the ones specifically about Asia, where my interest was, weren’t there. As I took the history courses, my interest in Japan grew.”

Millar transferred his passion for Japan and East Asian Studies to paper as a proposal to be accepted as an interdisciplinary major, a process that required approval from Beth Martin, Ph.D., the associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“The courses were in place, I just needed to design a program that would give me the degree – something I could put on my resume,” he says.

Thanks to Millar’s experience, the program is in place.

“His self-designed major and the course of study he took helped us shape the new East Asian Studies major,” says Mason, the coordinator of the East Asian Studies program.

Creating lasting friendships
Aside from being a trailblazer for the program, Millar’s financial contribution will help the department long term.

“The kind of gift Alex established helps the program because, while the interest on the money donated continues to grow, it will soon develop into a significant amount of money over time,” Mason says. “We can attract students who want to experience immersion, and 50 to 100 years from now, this gift will still be helping those students.”

Mason hopes students will share Millar’s curiosity and be able to have similar experiences, thanks to gifts like his.

“He wanted to find out as much about Japan as he could, and he went for it,” she says. “His gift will help kids who might have the curiosity but not the financial means to be able to immerse themselves.”

Long believes Millar’s gift spoke volumes about his character.

“Alex never forgets the support and trust of family and friends,” she says. “His gift to JCU reflects his appreciation for the opportunities he had as an undergraduate by tying together his deep interest in Japan with his loyalty to his university. It’s striking that, like other young philanthropists, he doesn’t want to wait until he’s an old man to make a difference. He wants to help JCU undergraduates now have the sort of experience he had in Japan. He’s paying back by paying ahead.”

Still, Millar clearly states his goal of establishing the endowed scholarship was simple.

“I hope students who go to Japan not only experience the culture but create lasting friendships,” he says. “To come away with friendships and bridge the cultures would be fantastic.” JCU

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