Arts & Humanities

Art Leads Young Alum Around the Globe


Justin Wheatley graduated from Utah State University in May 2006 with a degree in art education. That means he joined the ranks of the university’s alumni just over a year ago, but in the year’s time he’s earned a prestigious grant and has traveled the globe pursuing his love of art and education. All that thanks to learning experiences and skills he gained at USU.
As a young graduate, Wheatley has one year’s experience under his belt as an art educator at Cyprus High School in the Granite School District in Salt Lake City where he taught six sections of 3-D design. In his second year of teaching he will add a concurrent enrollment course, Exploring Art, that he will teach at Cyprus while students receive credit at Salt Lake Community College.
In his first year of teaching, Wheatley applied for and received an impressive grant that resulted in his acceptance in the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund program, a rare, prestigious honor for a young professional. 
The Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund was established to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Fulbright Program, a U.S. government project created in 1946 to foster mutual understanding through exchanges of university students, faculty and teachers. The Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund continues a tradition of dialogue and exchange between the United States and Japan.
“The program is sponsored by the Japanese government and takes 200 teachers from the United States to learn about the country’s culture and educational system,” Wheatley said. “There were teachers from every state in the country, including three from Utah.” 
According to Tamara Burnside, the K-12 fine arts specialist for the Granite School District, it is unusual for a first-year teacher to earn an honor like this. Professional development is encouraged throughout the district, and all teachers create a professional growth and evaluation program at the beginning ofthe year. The teachers rank their skills and set goals to enhance their performance. Through teachers’ professional development, students reap the rewards of new and exciting advancements in learning.
“Justin’s application must have been exceptional for him to receive this award,” Burnside said. “He’s the one who gets the credit for taking the initiative to reflect on the scholarship, then take charge and complete the detailed application process. Now, with the Fulbright experience fresh and alive in his mind, he will show students new, culturally diverse approaches and techniques to more richly express themselves.”
Wheatley said he had little previous contact with Japan prior to the trip.
“While growing up, I had a Japanese American friend who taught me to count from one to 10 in Japanese so, when I walked off the plane in Tokyo, I could confidently count from one to 10,” he said. “I’d also gone to a couple of Obon festivals in Salt Lake, but that was it.”
The Obon festival is an annual Buddhist event for commemorating one’s ancestors. 
Wheatley’s summer of travel began earlier than his trip to Japan, when he accompanied a group of Utah State University art students and professor Christopher Terry to Germany as part of a USU Study Abroad program. Wheatley had earlier participated in the program as a student and calls Terry a mentor. In the summer of 2007, he served as a teaching assistant, teaching a drawing class to 14 USU student participants.
“Justin is a good artist with strong drawing skills,” Terry said. “More important, as a veteran participant I thought he’d not only understand the limitations and benefits of a study abroad teaching situation, but also be able to fill in the new students with practical knowledge — like where the laundromat is and how to find the best pizza. On a five-week trip to Europe, I’ve got a lot on my mind, and it was very reassuring to know that I didn’t need to worry about the course Justin covered. The success of the overall trip was due in large part to his efforts.”
A day after he got off the plane from Germany, he stepped onto a plane for the flight to Japan. 
Wheatley’s Japanese stay combined educational and cultural experiences, starting with a one-week stay in Tokyo before splitting into smaller groups to travel to cities throughout Japan. His group of 20 traveled to Ogi in the Saga Prefecture.
“A prefecture is similar to a state,” Wheatley said. “Saga is on the island of Kyshu, just south of the main island of Japan.” 
While in Ogi, the group visited local schools and museums. Members also spent two days and a night with a Japanese host family. The trip wrapped up with a return to Tokyo for three days to share experiences with other teachers. 
“The experience was incredible,” Wheatley wrote in his blog. “The Japanese people were extremely kind and hospitable.” 
From staying in a hotel next to the busiest train station in the world — picture 3.22 million passengers per day — to the quiet solitude of a Shinto shrine, Wheatley was able to expand his experience and continue to build his educational philosophy. He learned much about the Japanese educational system. For instance, a nearly zero percent illiteracy rate exists in all of Japan. Fifty percent of the population pursues some form of higher education. And, unlike the U.S. system, the Japanese educational system is a national system with an increasing push that emphasizes creativity, diversity and flexibility.
A day-by-day report on Wheatley’s trip can be found on his blog at
Toward the end of Wheatley’s stay in Japan, he attended a seminar about art education in Japan presented by Chihiro Tada, director of the Arts Education Institute and the National Toy Museum. Wheatley reports the presentation talked about the need for everyone — children and adults — to have time for play. And concerns in Japan mirror those in America.
“He talked about the growing concern over time spent on computers, playing video games, reading comic books and watching TV,” Wheatley wrote in his blog. “In Japan, kids spend 2,000 hours a year doing those four things. Compare that to the 700 hours spent studying in school.”
The speaker closed with a comment that rang true to Wheatley. 
“I believe that art education is an important as three meals a day,” Tada said. “It is very important for the body and the spirit.” That’s a belief Wheatley endorses.
Writer: Patrick Williams, 435.797.1354
October 2007

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