Female Japanese STEM students are spending a month at Lehigh University through the TOMODACHI-STEM program

Miki Yamada is one of only a few female students in her field at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. So she was thrilled that her first trip to the United States would allow her to work with in a laboratory setting with Elsa Reichmanis, Anderson Chair in Chemical Engineering in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Lehigh University

“I’m so very excited to be working with this amazing female professor in a lab,” said Yamada, who studies Life Science and Technology in Tokyo, and plans to pursue a Ph.D., possibly in the United States. “It’s so amazing to be here at Lehigh.”

Yamada is one of five female Japanese students in the science and engineering fields who will be spending a month studying at Lehigh through the TOMODACHI-STEM Women's Leadership and Research Program, a partnership between Lehigh’s Office of International Affairs (OIA) and Rice University in Houston, Texas.

Research Opportunites and Professional Development

Eiko Nakajima speaking at Lehigh University
Eiko Nakajima is a communications and computer engineering student at Waseda University in Tokyo

This marks the third year Lehigh has hosted TOMODACHI-STEM in its current format, which provides students with real-world experience with STEM research in a U.S. institution, while also providing opportunities for professional development and career exploration, and encouraging them to pursue graduate study and further research in the future.

“This is a great opportunity to provide unique learning experiences to these incredibly intelligent and engaged young women, while also exposing them to different cultures and showing them some of the opportunities available to them,” said Stacy Burger, Director of Global Partnerships and Strategic Initiatives, who administers the program at Lehigh.

In addition to Yamada, the participating students include Michiru Maruyama, an astronomy major at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan; Monami Mutoh, an earth science major at Tohoku; Eiko Nakajima, a communications and computer engineering student at Waseda University in Tokyo; and Kaede Yoshida, a bioscience major at Waseda.

They will study at Lehigh from Feb. 9 to March 9, after which they will travel to Houston to spend the last few days of the program with another cohort of TOMODACHI-STEM students who have been studying there. The program is made possible through a grant from the U.S. Japan Council, funded by Dow Chemical.

“We’re excited that you have the opportunity to spend some time here with us at Lehigh, get to know the faculty, learn about researching in the United States, and hopefully discovering some career opportunities for yourselves,” said Cheryl Matherly, Vice President and Vice Provost for International Affairs at OIA, who previously worked at Rice University and helped establish the partnership between the two institutions.

Variety of Research Projects

Monami Mutoh speaking at Lehigh University
Monami Mutoh, an earth science major at Tohoku University in Sendai.

Yoshida’s project investigates Wolbachia, bacteria that live inside the cells of more than half of all insect species, said Dylan Shropshire, assistant professor in Lehigh’s Department of Biological Services, who will be Yoshida’s host professor during her time at Lehigh.

Understanding these mechanisms is crucial for explaining how bacteria move between species, and her research could illuminate new aspects of how microbes interact with their environments and hosts, expanding our understanding of microbial life's complexities, Shropshire said.

“Science thrives on the collaboration of diverse communities, each bringing unique opinions, perspectives, and expertise to the table, he said. “I am thrilled to serve as a host in the TOMODACHI-STEM program, where we collaborate with talented Japanese women, enhancing both their skill sets and the depth of our research.”

This will mark the first time Yoshida has conducted research in a laboratory setting in this way. It will also be the first time for Mutoh, who, like Yoshida, is a second-year student in Japan.

“I never would have guessed my first time doing research would be in the United States, so I’m a little bit nervous, but everyone here at Lehigh has helped reassure me that it will be OK,” Mutoh said. “It’s very exciting.”

“Teamwork, Curoisity, and Diverse Perspectives”

Michiru Maruyama and Kaede Yoshida (respective) speaking at Lehigh University's Global Union
Michiru Maruyama and Kaede Yoshida (respectively) speaking at Lehigh University's Global Union

Monami will be working on the impact of high hydrostatic pressure on marine microbial communities, according to John Paul Balmonte, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences. She will be co-extracting DNA and RNA from sediment samples from 7,200 m depth in the Aleutian Trench in the western tip of Alaska.

“We are thrilled that Monami chose to visit our lab and learn about  and take part in the research that we do,” Balmonte said. “We're a lab that values teamwork, curiosity, and diverse perspectives, so having Monami with us will undoubtedly be enriching for us. We hope this time will also be equally enriching for Monami.”

In addition to the U.S. laboratory experience, the TOMODACHI-STEM students will learn about presentation skills, the culture of U.S. higher education, English language enrichment, and opportunities for professional development and career advancement. From Lehigh’s International Center for Academic and Professional English (ICAPE), the students will receive guidance on resume building, job interview skills, and how to apply for a U.S. graduate school.

Y.C. Ethan Yang, Associate Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, will be faculty advisor for the students while they are at Lehigh. Aparna Bharati, Assistant Professor with the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, will be the faculty host for Nakajima, and Andrew McNeil, Visiting Assistant Professor with the Department of Physics, will be the faculty host for Maruyama.