Eastern Michigan University opens the doors to so many possibilities for our students exposing them to opportunities that they could never imagine leading to life-changing experiences. This is the case for alumna, Tracee (Davie) Patterson (BA97). EMU was the conduit that introduced her to Japanese language and culture and cultivated her true passion.
Dr. Derrick Coleman, River Rouge Superintendent and KEJ Employee, EMU Graduate Tiffany Trager and Tracee Patterson at the STEM Academy 8th grade graduation 2021
It all started when Tracee began studying Japanese under EMU’s Professor Motoko Tabuse, to whom she says inspired her to feel confident in the language. During her undergraduate studies, she had the opportunity to study abroad in Japan, which opened a whole new world of possibilities. Now, with almost 30 years of practice, Tracee is a founder and a lead instructor for the Kids Explore Japan (KEJ) program, based in Midtown Detroit. This program seeks to bridge the educational gap by providing youth access to one of the most challenging languages in the world, broadening their horizons, challenging their brains, improving cognitive and social development all while enhancing future career opportunities.
Though Tracee had a 20-year career as a planner for the City of Detroit Planning & Development Department, and an executive leadership role with a high-performing statewide health non-profit, she says that her work with KEJ “resonates with her spirit.”
The KEJ program started seven years ago with the objective to introduce children to the Japanese language and culture. As one of the most challenging languages in the world, the program is aimed to challenge their minds and expand their present and future outlook on the world.
“With the rapid globalization of our society, underrepresented youth must learn the benefit of connecting with other cultures beyond what they perceive and or experience,” says Tracee. “It is our goal to spark curiosity in their minds to explore Japan and eventually the rest of the world.” The instructors are able to do this with in-class discussions of the language, and hands-on demonstrations of traditions, like Origami, Japanese paper folding, or Ikebana, Japanese flower arranging, or even field trips. As the children build their skills, higher-level grammatical structures and vocabulary are taught in the hopes that they will one day have the ability to hold casual conversations in Japanese.
Japanese language/culture is being offered as an elective at the River Rouge K-8 STEM Academy through Kids Explore Japan. In addition, the program will be offered in the fall to River Rouge high school students.
“After seven years of providing this service to the community, I have seen its awe-inspiring impact firsthand,” says Tracee. “Our children shine brighter with confidence, pride and excel beyond societal expectations. I am committed to sharing this skill and language opportunity with all who are open to learn.”