Bridging the gender gap and encouraging girls to pursue STEM

Following its successful debut in July 2017, the NEA International Mentoring Workshop in Science and Engineering returned to Japan to encourage girls into STEM for the second year. Joshikai II for Future Scientists was held on 8‑9 August 2018 in Tokyo, in co‑operation with the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), in order to motivate young female students to explore science and engineering careers, and to suggest ways to overcome any barriers they may face along the way.

The workshop brought together more than 50 female students from Japanese high schools and junior high schools with highly accomplished women scientists and engineers from Japan and three other NEA member countries. During the two‑day workshop, the mentors discussed with the students the lives, careers and experiences of women in STEM through panel discussions, ice‑breaking dialogue sessions, hands‑on activities and group discussions. This year’s workshop also included a special session for parents and teachers, as family and teacher support is considered key to encouraging girls to study and work in STEM.

Opening remarks were delivered by Yuhei Yamashita, Parliamentary Vice‑Minister of the Cabinet Office, Government of Japan; Hideki Niizuma, Parliamentary Vice‑Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), Japan; Toshio Kodama,JAEA President; and William D. Magwood, IV, NEA Director‑General. Ayumi Asai, Associate Professor, Astronomical Observatory, Graduate School Science, Kyoto University, and Cait MacPhee, Professor of Biological Physics, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, provided keynote speeches.

“At the NEA, we encourage our member countries to explore ways of attracting, recruiting and retaining women in science and technology,” NEA Director‑General William D. Magwood, IV, underlined during his opening remarks. “The NEA hopes to strengthen the momentum towards the cause of encouraging a future generation of female leaders in the science and engineering fields.”

Junka Kishimoto, a student at Hiroo Gakuen Junior and Senior High School who participated in the workshop, expressed that the workshop gave her confidence: “Today I had a discussion with one of the mentors. She said that she chose her path based on her intuitions – she had confidence in her choice. I thought that that’s what I need for my future.” Kishimoto continued: “The best piece of advice that my mentor gave me is to believe in myself.”

A teacher at Toho Junior and Senior High Schools, Tomoko Maekawa, noted that she envied the participating students: “If I had had the chance to attend a similar event in my high school years, it would have changed my life. This opportunity showed them another world.”

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