Professor Max Saito Advocates Global Perspectives and Experiential Learning

May 8, 2024
Professor Max Saito of the Communication Department. He sits in his office, which is walled with several shelves of books. His hands are clasped over his torso, and he smiles at the camera in a vest and green hat.

Professor Max Saito.

Professor Max Saito, a stalwart in the University's Communication Department since 2005, is a passionate advocate for global perspectives and experiential learning. Dr. Saito's journey into academia is intertwined with his belief in challenging assumptions and fostering alternative dialogues among students.

Teaching a diverse range of courses including Global Communication, Food Justice, Communication and Conflict, Human Rights, and International Conflict Resolution, Dr. Saito delves deep into the nuances of cultural understanding and civic engagement. "It's very important to have alternative dialogues," Dr. Saito asserts, emphasizing the role of critical thinking in shaping future leaders. “The students are our future leaders, and so for them to have that way of thinking… of challenging and going beyond what they hear from social media, I think it would make for very good citizens and good leaders in society.”

One of Dr. Saito's signature initiatives is organizing short-term study abroad trips, offering students immersive experiences in international cultures. Reflecting on past trips to destinations like Jordan and Florence, Italy, Saito shared, "I like for our students to have this opportunity to experience going abroad and meeting new people, hearing different languages, and even trying to use a different language. It's so eye-opening.” In the near future, Dr. Saito is hoping to bring his students to Ireland in collaboration with one of his personal friends who is a professor at The University College Cork.

This experience, Dr. Saito said, is close to his heart, as one of his own abroad trips in Sri Lanka as an automobile maintenance teacher inspired him to seek out newer horizons and borders. After studying electrical engineering in high school, Dr. Saito taught a two-year program on automobile maintenance in Sri Lanka.

“I had such a wonderful time,” Dr. Saito said. “I had to teach in the official language, and back then, I didn’t speak much English either, so I had to learn. There was no dictionary between Japanese and Sinhalese, so every night, I would use the Japanese dictionary to English, then English to Sinhalese, and prepare my classes that way. It was very challenging, but I liked that. If I didn’t have that experience, I’m sure I wouldn’t be at the University today.”

This exposure to another culture helped Dr. Saito to understand the underlying humanity within every way of life. His students, as they grew closer, were part of this shift in perspective. “I always try to be appreciative of who students are, whatever they’re doing, and to see the gifts that they bring. The gift may not always be evident or apparent, but I try to see that.” In dedication to this ideal, Dr. Saito wears what he calls his “false assumption hat”, a forest green hat trimmed with red that reminds him to never allow any false assumption to impact the way he operates as a professor and a fellow human being.

Communication majors, Dr. Saito remarked, have a wide array of career options, including journalism, social media management, television, public relations, event coordination, counseling, human resources, human services, marketing, and even fields such as philosophy or sociology. He also echoed University President Linda Thompson's vision to "think globally and act locally," emphasizing the importance of being reflective consumers and communicators, as being aware of daily communication practices can promote human rights both globally and locally.

Dr. Saito also said that being reflective of how we consume art, media, and culture can help to improve the development of skillsets and also people’s lives. His most pressing piece of advice, however, is for students to travel and study abroad if they have the means and opportunity. Through his dedication to bridging cultures and minds through compassion, understanding, and education, Dr. Saito continues to inspire students and shape the University's commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive academic environment.