With a global increase in demand for female researchers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), Tokyo Tech is working hard to ensure a study and research environment where all women can freely immerse themselves in their interests. The percentage of female Tokyo Tech students is gradually increasing, currently standing at 12% in the Department of Chemistry, 25% in the Department of Biotechnology, and 30% in the Department of Architecture and Building Engineering (as of May 2015).
Most of these students go on to secure research or other positions at educational organizations, research institutes, and private sector companies. The Institute's Gender Equality Center plays a central role in maintaining an atmosphere where every individual, regardless of gender, has an opportunity to pursue his or her preferred study or research path.
Despite Tokyo Tech's continued efforts, female enrollment at the Institute is still relatively low compared to the world's top universities. The percentage of female undergraduate students at, for instance, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is 46%. To address this shortfall and encourage more young women to engage in their fields of interest, Tokyo Tech hosted the "Women in STEM Panel Discussion" on July 13, 2015.
At the panel discussion, Caroline Bouvier Kennedy, US Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Japan, and panelists active in STEM fields sent messages of encouragement to the young women in the audience.
In her introductory remarks to nearly 200 female high school and university students, Ambassador Kennedy assured the young listeners that "there are opportunities for anyone in this room who wants to work in an exciting field that will make full use of your talents."
This is an exciting time to be a student — and particularly, a female student — interested in science, technology, engineering, and math.-Ambassador Kennedy-
With a background in product design including stints at LEGO in Denmark and France, Tokyo Tech's Associate Professor Céline Mougenot from the Department of Engineering described her field as something more women should consider. "Engineers do cool things for people," designing products that are both practical and enjoyable, Mougenot explained. She commented that women studying and conducting research in STEM fields can be just as successful as men, and can bring their own individual talents and perspectives to their work.
Working as an engineer in Denmark and France, I felt there was no difference between male and female engineers.-Associate Professor Mougenot-
The unequal representation of women in STEM fields is a universal issue, and the reasons for and solutions to this shortage have long been a topic of debate. Student panelists shared their personal stories on inspiration and expressed ideas about how to motivate other young women to enter these fields.
Anastassia Bobokalonova, an MIT undergraduate student and participant in the Tokyo Institute of Technology International Research Opportunities Program (TiROP), explained how her journey into STEM began with a single question in junior high school: "How high can you balance a textbook using only paper?" She stressed that encouraging girls in science and math is just as important in middle and high school as it is in higher education, commenting, "I was lucky to have teachers encourage me to go into math and science."
Eri Takematsu, a former Tokyo Tech student, surmised that if younger women received meaningful introductions to STEM subjects in ways that captured their interests, they would likely be more interested in pursuing those fields in higher education. She suggested that Tokyo Tech professors lecture on sci-tech topics at high schools, using examples — such as the connection of materials science to cosmetics — to emphasize the relevance of STEM to girls' lives.
Young women in the audience were asked to share their reactions to the panel discussion.
3rd-year student, Tokyo Tech High School of Science and Technology
In my high school classes, I struggle to express my opinions clearly, particularly when compared to the boys in class. In the past, I often found myself worrying about whether I could freely research the field that interests me, and whether girls actually can contribute to STEM fields as effectively as boys. During this panel discussion, I realized that I will be contributing to these fields in the future precisely because I am a girl.
4th-year undergraduate student, Department of Inorganic Materials, School of Engineering
After hearing from an exchange student that group activities involving males and females are much more common overseas than in Japan, I was reassured of my position as a STEM woman from an international viewpoint. Ambassador Kennedy said she wanted us all to become leaders on the world stage. Those words really touched me, and made me want to be a woman who contributes to society.
Responding to the demands and problems of society is a duty which Tokyo Tech takes seriously in its quest towards becoming a world-leading research university. The Institute places high priority on providing an equal, fair, and comfortable environment to all students, faculty, and staff members, male or female, and as a hub specializing in science and technology, will continue to support and encourage women so they can contribute to and excel in STEM fields.
For more information on the topics discussed at the Women in STEM event, take a look at the following article:
This event was held as part of the Tokyo Institute of Technology International Research Opportunities Program (TiROP).