President’s corner: Why Ed Feasel values cultivating global citizens at Soka University

As existential threats challenge colleges and universities' survival, Feasel faces the future with a powerful mission that he helps shape and that sharpens his mind's eye.

Soka University of America is comparatively young standing next to other historic institutions that have racked up a century’s worth of legacy and alumni.

Soka will soon graduate its 20th class since opening the campus in Aliso Viejo, Calif. But questions around “how old” an institution is don’t interest President Ed Feasel.

“The presidents adding to their curriculum and innovating are mission-centric and value-based,” he says. “Others that have a long history—or even a short history—but don’t have that specific attention tend to maintain just a steady state.”

Feasel’s experience as a higher education administrator is deeply rooted in SUA’s mission to develop global citizens. Before becoming the private liberal arts school’s second president, he was a founding faculty member and became the dean of faculty after SUA graduated its first class. Feasel often reflects on a lecture given by Daisaku Ikeda, founder of SUA and the Soka Gakkai Buddhist movement. The lecture, delivered at the Columbia Teachers College, posed three values all worldly learners should walk away with: courage to learn from our differences, compassion for others’ suffering and wisdom to see the interconnectedness of all life and living.

“We all have something that we’re struggling or suffering about,” Feasel says. “We should have the compassion to want to help our peers and community overcome that and the wisdom and courage to realize we can take action to support each other.”

As existential threats challenge colleges and universities’ survival, Feasel faces the future with a powerful mission, one he helps shape and one that sharpens his mind’s eye. After all, the country’s most pressing issues are usually happening on a global scale, he says.

The first 20 years in Aliso Viejo helped build SUA’s foundation, Feasel says. Listen to SUA’s mission for the next 20 years and beyond.

More from UB: What can private institutions do about the middle-class squeeze?

Soka’s global footprint

About half of SUA’s 500 undergraduates are international. Its student body represents more than 30 different countries and 40 U.S. states. As a result, students regularly collaborate with colleagues from different nationalities, cultures and walks of life. This diversity also challenges faculty to design curriculum that challenges their perspective.

“I can’t just be US-centric,” says Feasel, who also teaches economics at SUA. “I have to really think about making it relevant for all our students. It’s not like how I taught at other institutions.”

SUA can attribute some of its success in attracting such a robust student body to its general financial aid package that extends to all of its students. Students—including those from abroad—whose families make less than $90,000 are awarded a full tuition scholarship.

But most importantly, the university has built a strong reputation. SUA benefits from a yearly stream of first-year students hailing from Nepal, Vietnam and countries in Africa.

“It’s a testament to the quality of our education and the opportunity we provide for these students, who then go on to graduate school, work here and/or return to their home country,” Feasel says.

Strengthening alumni lifelong engagement

Feasel has been with SUA before it gained accreditation two decades ago. Now that it’s built a solid reputation among college hopefuls, SUA’s next evolution involves reengaging its proud alumni base.

“They miss SUA, and they wish they could support us,” Feasel says. “They’re supporting us financially, which, of course, I appreciate, but I could also sense this eagerness to engage with their alma mater on concrete issues.”

Enter the Soka Institute for Global Solutions, or SIGS for short. Now in its second year, SUA is inviting alumni from around the world to collaborate on three projects at the core of SUA’s mission: assisting underresourced K12 districts to develop worldly curriculum, cultivating perspective and policy against nuclear arms and establishing reconciliation efforts across East Asia.

Five alumni have returned to SUA to become faculty and present their work alongside 20 experts from around the world, Feasel says. “What better way to carry SUA’s tradition than in a lifetime learning and engagement capacity?”

Feasel on how SIGS fortifies global citizenship efforts around the world.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

Most Popular