Student Blog

Shaping Future Leaders: The Impact of Liberty Tree Seminars at APU

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The Liberty Tree Seminar series, sponsored by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, was created to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to express their opinions and practice open-mindedness. Free from the constraints of a classroom where one would be concerned about grades.

For this article, I sat down with Professor Yoichiro Sato and Dr. Kevin Cooney to understand more about the seminar’s origin and processes.

Professor Yoichiro Sato is currently the Dean of Asia Pacific Studies at APU. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii, a Master's from the University of South Carolina Government and International Studies, and a BA from Keio University. Dr. Kevin Cooney has a Ph.D. in International Relations from Arizona State University, a MA from Lancaster University (UK), and a BA from Oral Roberts University. He is a visiting professor at APU and is currently president of the Wilberforce International Institute, an organization dedicated to training international students to be agents of change in their home societies.

The Liberty Tree Seminar, founded in 2012, aims to foster students' ability to articulate their opinions with sound reasoning while encouraging them to critique and question existing arguments and systems with an open mind. The seminars delve into controversial subjects, including security, global citizenship, and religious freedom, to mention a few. During these sessions, students are organized into groups to discuss cases and engage in simulations where they hold the authority to establish laws mirroring real-world regulatory frameworks. The seminars also provide an opportunity for students to hear from experts on said topics. Recent sessions featured Professor Mark D. Hall from Regent University who is serving as a Senior Research Fellow for Religion, Culture & Democracy at the First Liberty Institute. Dr. Cooney works alongside Greg Schaller, who holds the position of President of the John Jay Institute and Chair at Cairn University, specializing in Politics, Philosophy, and History. Each seminar begins with a keynote talk and a free dinner that is provided for the delegates to promote connections between themselves and the professors.

The seminar was first conducted at universities within Washington state and came to APU in 2015 with 16 students participating. The seminar only grew in popularity within APU in the following years, collecting up to 70-80 applicants to be sorted by the hosts. It is important that no matter how many apply, the final delegate pool stays relatively small (around 24-30) to ensure that every opinion or voice can be heard.

Francis Gregorio, a 3rd-semester APU student majoring in International Relations whom I interviewed, is a recent delegate at this semester’s seminar on the theme of international religious liberty. This was his second Liberty Tree Seminar, as he joined the 2022 seminar that focused on security and civil liberties. He highlights how the seminar helped him structure debates, provide and receive criticism, and develop polished solutions with his peers' help. These skills come in especially handy in his experience as one of the core members of RitMUNC* APU. His experience resonates with mine as I was also a delegate at last spring’s seminar that focused on Immigration. I found that I was able to hear from multiple voices that were shaped by different backgrounds and identities about relevant issues that would eventually be ours to handle in the future.

I believe that APU is a perfect environment to hold the Liberty Tree Seminars as it is home to many diverse individuals who want to make a change. It prepares students to have difficult debates that concern the well-being of others and the state of the world.

* RitMUNC -Ritsumeikan Model United Nations APU


Hello, everyone! I’m Zera from Indonesia. I am in my 2nd year of APS, majoring in CSM. I’m still relatively new to APU student life so that will motivate me to experience more things and make new friends! Of course, I won’t forget to write about it for you all!

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