On Saturday, December 4, 2021, a gathering was held over Zoom to provide an opportunity for current Ito Foundation U.S.A.-FUTI Scholarship students to connect with each other, with FUTI, and the Ito Foundation. Ten of the eleven current Ito Foundation U.S.A.-FUTI Scholarship recipients attended, along with members of the FUTI Scholarship Committee, FUTI Vice President and CFO, Yuichiro Kuwama, Yoshikazu Toyama and Asako Yamamoto of the Ito Foundation, and Yuki Haba, President of the FUTI Alumni Association.
The event started with greetings by FUTI Scholarship Committee Chair, Shigenori Matsushita, and FUTI President and CEO, Iwao Ojima, introducing and thanking those who were able to attend the meeting from Tokyo and the US. Prof. Ojima briefly explained that the purpose of the meeting is to have Scholarship recipients present what they are currently working on in their studies in the US, and for the organizations to have a chance to meet the students.
Yoshikazu Toyama gave a brief history on the Ito Foundation, starting with a profile of its founder, Masatoshi Ito, who had himself received support for his education and felt a great debt of gratitude for his education and his success as the founder of Seven & i Holdings. Masatoshi Ito started the Ito Scholarship Foundation in Japan and Ito Foundation U.S.A. as a way to give back to society by supporting promising students.
The meeting then proceeded to its main event, the student presentations which were all given in English. Below are highlights from each of the students’ presentations.
Manaka Hataoka, a master’s program student in Landscape Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD), had received her Urban Engineering degree from University of Tokyo where she primarily explored public spaces and urban waterfront. Before she left Japan, she had an opportunity to speak with a landscape architect whom she admires.The conversation about forms stayed with her and she has since been interrogating meanings of forms and forms themselves in her studies at the GSD. Using images and diagrams, she went on to explain her projects on materiality and monumentality.
Ryo Ikesu, a master’s student in the Department of Epidemiology at the UCLA School of Public Health, came to UCLA primarily to learn causal inference from observational data. He graduated from Medical School at UTokyo in 2016, and after his two-year residency at hospitals, he became interested in public health and entered the Ph.D. program at the Graduate School of Medicine at UTokyo. He described some of his coursework as a graduate student at UCLA, and noted that in the US, teaching assistants (TA’s) play an important role in the class including daily discussions, answering students’ questions, and grading exams. He also mentioned his research experience at UCLA including his research assistant positions.
Akihiko Izu is a second-year MBA student at MIT Sloan School of Management. He graduated from UTokyo School of Law in 2013 and started working for one of the largest law firms in Tokyo where he supported companies to conduct M&A and startup investment activities. After a few years of legal practice, he realized that business experience as a decision-maker is critical to becoming an excellent corporate lawyer so he chose to come to MIT and pursue an MBA. At the university he and two other MIT students started a company, Multitude Insights, Inc., which helps law enforcement agencies better serve their communities through AI-supported data analysis. So far, they have made significant progress by executing official partnerships with Boston-metro police departments and winning $65,000 awards. He explained the MIT startup ecosystem which supports students through classes, networking, funding, and mentoring.
Lin Yuxiu is currently studying International Finance and Data Analysis at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs and is pursuing an International Dual Degree where she will graduate with two degrees, one from the UTokyo Graduate School of Public Policy (GraSPP) and the other from Columbia SIPA. She is a member of the SIPA Finance Society and Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). In her life at Columbia, she noted that students work and study very hard but also have a vibrant social life, are very proactive in networking and advocacy, come from diverse backgrounds, and are open to communicating their opinions and perspectives on various topics and issues. She will be staying very busy with an internship at UN Women which starts in a week and a capstone project in the spring semester where she will be involved in a consulting project for J.P. Morgan on sovereign ESG assessments.
Fumika Moriya is a 2nd year PhD student at UTokyo who only arrived last month in Philadelphia to begin her studies as a visiting student at the Perelman School of Medicine at University of Pennsylvania. She came to the US to learn experimental skills to enrich her PhD work. Her research interest is the production of new cells in the hippocampus, and the role of newborn neurons in learning and memory functions. After describing the different methods of researching brain functions, she reported that at the laboratory, she is learning the basic skills of recording hippocampal activities such as building a device from scratch that records electrical activities and learning to perform the surgery of implanting electrodes into mice brains. She was impressed by the quality of presentations at laboratory meetings, the sharp opinions of members during discussions, and is very glad to be part of a well-organized and great research environment. As a lab researcher, she realized it can be hard to expand her network when simply going back and forth between home and the laboratory, so she joined the Japan Association Club at UPenn.
Tomohito Okuda is in his third and last year pursuing his dual degree of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and Business at MIT Sloan School of Management. He started off by saying that, most importantly, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, he was able to pursue what he wanted to do and expressed gratitude for the support and opportunity. His interest is in infrastructure development in developing countries. He had experience in infrastructure development as a manager at Mitsubishi Corporation for five years. In his first two years in the dual degree program, he learned foundational skills such as advanced economics and data analysis which he can now gradually apply to real-world situations. He showed two examples. The first one was a project at MIT collaborating with a social enterprise in Kenya to analyze non-payment behaviors of customers at a company that provides off-grid toilet service to low-income residents. He and three other students worked on analyzing payment behaviors of over 2,000 customers and created a prediction model identifying ‘risky’ customers. The company can use this model to strategically address these risky customers and nudge them for payment. The second example was in the context of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School. His team collaborated with a municipality in the US to analyze the public opinion of its citizens. The town had vacant plots and wanted to know how its residents wished to use the plots, namely, how to efficiently use taxpayer dollars. His team designed a survey and collected responses from over 600 residents. He pointed out that one of the problems many American municipalities face with public opinion is the over- or under-representation of certain populations. He found the skills he learned during his first and second years very useful in these real-world settings.
Yui Omori is a first-year master’s student in Landscape Architecture at North Carolina State University. Her research area is in coastal infrastructure design with a focus on tsunamis, sea-level rise, sea walls, and coastal forests. In her first semester of lectures and studio work in the landscape architecture program, she learned basic skills such as inputting landform data into the design and learned how storm water flows underground. Since NC State is in the path of hurricanes and suffers its fair share of flooding, much of her courses were focused on topography, disaster characteristics, and how to design landscapes. Projects included field work in the City of Raleigh at the North Carolina Museum of Art, at Moore Square, and at Durham, in addition to giving a mid-term presentation. She went on to say that her long-term goal is to develop viable coastal design, and gave a brief presentation entitled, “Coastal Resilience Against Megadisasters” where she discussed Shinsai-ikou, disaster ruins which are preserved to show the destruction from disasters for future generations. She also showed a comparison where the City of Raleigh is situated between mountains and the ocean with coastal forests, much like coastal Japan. She is concerned by the coastal forests disappearing in Japan due to rising sea levels, and thus hopes to make use of the knowledge she learns in North Carolina to pursue coastal design in order to better handle megadisasters like tsunami in the future.
Ayako Sakamoto is in her second year at the Master in Public Administration in International Development (MPA/ID) at Harvard Kennedy School. Previously she worked for a consulting firm, Deloitte Thomas Consulting, as a management consultant for three years and dealt mainly with energy investments as she always had an interest in climate change and renewable energy. At UTokyo she received her bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences and master’s degree in engineering, focused on solar power. After working in the private sector, she felt the desire to solve climate change issues from the public policy/public sector perspective. She described some of the courses she is taking in the fall semester such as, “Electrification in Myanmar,” as she is interested in rural electrification in addition to renewable energy, and Myanmar has the lowest energy access in Asia. Her work on this topic involves analyzing the cause of its low energy access and exploring the kinds of policy that could be applicable and appropriate to improve energy access in Myanmar. She also worked as a part-time intern at the Climate Business Department at IFC (International Finance Corporation) in September and October, where evaluation measurement tools are developed to measure the impact of investments on climate change by private financial institutions.
Kohei Wachi is a master’s student at Stanford Law School, in the Law, Science, and Technology program. He started by thanking Ito Foundation U.S.A. and FUTI for their support and expressing how happy he was to meet other FUTI Scholarship recipients. Before coming to the US, he practiced as a corporate lawyer at a law firm for four years, and also at Google Japan in their legal department as a secondee for two years, where he became interested in technology law. He decided to come to Stanford Law for two reasons: One, to become familiar with US regulations related to technology law such as platform regulations, data privacy concerns, fake news and online speech regulations; and two, he wanted to learn more about LGBTQ life at Stanford to help with his work on LGBTQ issues in Japan. At Stanford he has taken many tech-related courses such as a class on data protection regulation, and an internet and society program where global regulations against tech platforms are discussed. In terms of immersing himself in the LGBTQ community, he has joined student organizations such as Outlaw. He learned that visibility is of utmost importance to show community support and he wishes to learn from this experience and bring it back to Japan.
Sadahisa Watanabe is a Ph.D. student in Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. At UTokyo he received his B.A. and M.A. in French Language and Literature. During his master’s studies, Sadahisa was an exchange student at the University of Geneva in Switzerland and an intern at the 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. He stays busy with lots of coursework and is largely happy with his experience at the school. His studies focus on how information society changes literature and literary expressions. He is also pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Data Science in Humanities, where he combines data science and humanities to explore topics like algorithms of best sellers through text mining. He explains that text mining and natural language processing are done with computers that are able to read an enormous amount of data, thereby enabling researchers to conduct “distant reading” as opposed to “close reading.” His ultimate goal is to incorporate computational methods into research in humanities and to change the notion of creative writing by using data.
After each of the presentations, students thanked the Ito Foundation U.S.A. and FUTI for their support and noted that their studies could not have come to fruition without the scholarships. At the second part of the meeting, Prof. Ojima presided over an open conversation discussing the pros and cons of giving lectures in English at UTokyo. Prof. Ojima remarked how all the students at the gathering displayed impressive English skills and emphasized the importance of being able to not only speak but to think in English in order to collaborate internationally.
Finally, Yuki Haba, founder and President of the FUTI Alumni Association, thanked all the participants for their interesting presentations, and gave a brief outline of his current activities as a PhD candidate at Princeton University. His PhD thesis is on the evolution of mosquito behavior and how climate change affects the distribution of mosquitos, thus affecting the spread of diseases. In his closing statements he talked about how the financial support by the Ito Foundation U.S.A.-FUTI Scholarship is only a fraction of the benefits the scholarship provides. The real benefit, he feels, is the interpersonal connection among scholarship recipients as well as their relationship with the people affiliated with the organization who are all outstanding individuals excelling in a wide variety of specialties. He also shared the activities of the FUTI Alumni Association and his wish that it would provide a platform where scholarship recipients can interact, connect, share ideas, or just casually hang out.