Skip Wood '15
-story by Lena Wallace '14
Randolph-Macon College student William “Skip” Wood ’15 has taken
his Asian Studies class one step further
by participating in the Schapiro Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF)
program. SURF offers students the unique opportunity to conduct 10 weeks of full-time,
original research during the summer months, under the guidance of a faculty mentor.
Wood’s project, “In Reverence of Failure: Musashibo Benkei and the Tragic Hero in
Japanese History,” involves extensive research on Musashibo Benkei, one of the greatest
and most tragic folk heroes in Japanese history. Benkei is a major pop-culture figure
who has influenced Noh and Kabuki plays as well as current examples of pop culture
such as manga and anime.
“I want to shed light on a warrior monk,” says Wood. “Japanese culture is distinctive
and I want to explore why Benkei is relevant in today’s Japanese society.” Wood,
a Salisbury, North Carolina native, is a history major
and English minor. He visited Japan when he
was eight years old with his uncle, grandmother and Japanese grandfather.
“I remember the crowds in Tokyo vividly,” says Wood. “I also remember climbing to
the top of Himeji Castle with my grandfather. We traveled to Japan so that he could
visit his family in Kobe.”
Wood was encouraged by Asian Studies Professor
Todd Munson to apply to the SURF program.
“Skip and I discuss historical records and assemble sources,” says Munson, who has
mentored three other SURF students since 2004. “My comprehensive knowledge helps
me guide him. I help Skip with my expertise so he can come to a meaningful conclusion
or something that has not been discovered.” Wood and Munson meet three times a week.
“I wouldn’t know the customs of Japanese culture without Professor Munson,” says
Wood. “I get to be as independent as I want with my research. The ultimate goal
of my research is to examine the concept of Japanese ‘success in failure’ in context
of Musashibo Benkei and to better understand Japanese society in its reasoning behind
elevating Benkei to legendary status.”
Wood says he has enjoyed classes taught by Munson, including Japan, which explores
the origins of human life on the Japanese archipelago and focuses on topics such
as the introduction of Chinese civilization, the origins of Shinto and Japanese
Buddhism, the development of traditional Japanese culture and literature, and the
rise of the samurai class during the Heian, Kamakura and Ashikaga Periods. Wood
also took Munson’s Japanese History Since 1600 course, which focuses on studying
the Tokugawa period.
Campus Life and Beyond
In addition to participating in the SURF Program,
Wood is a Resident Assistant,
vice president of Theta Chi, and vice president of service and outreach for the
Inter-fraternity Council. As vice president of service and outreach he is in charge
of IFC’s charity work, philanthropy events, media outreach and increasing public
interest and knowledge about Greek
Life and IFC. Wood also serves on the R-MC Judicial Council.
His post-R-MC plans include attending graduate school to become a college history
The SURF program was established in 1995 through
a generous gift made by Ben '64 and Peggy Schapiro. The Schapiros continue to support
this program, which promotes scholarly undergraduate research by R-MC students in