From 17th – 25th July 2021, the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) hosted the first SHIMA: Okinawa-Hawaii STEM Education Collaborative, in partnership with the Hawaiian non-profit organization Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA). The science education workshop was designed to promote cross-cultural learning exchanges between Okinawa and Hawaii.
Inspired by the rich cultural heritage and respect for nature that are integral to both islands’ histories, the project encouraged the sharing of knowledge related to land-ocean connectivity, focused on traditional methods of natural resource management. The aim of the workshop, which was partly funded by the US Consulate General Naha Annual Program, was to inspire high school students in both countries to be more passionate about science and sustainability and to consider a career in STEM.
The Okinawan high school students with OIST staff from the Graduate School and the Science Education Outreach Team.
During the week-long workshop, 13 students from different high schools in Okinawa took part in seminars, science demonstrations and hands-on experiments. The activities covered a diverse array of topics related to sustainable environmental management and seaweed farming, ranging from conservation to chemistry to art and culture. The sessions were led by OIST researchers and PhD students, as well as experts involved in agriculture, forestry and fisheries from the local community.
The students experimented with a 3D model to demonstrate the impacts of red soil runoff.
The participants in Okinawa went on educational fieldwork trips, including visiting a local farm to learn about measures to prevent red soil runoff, and visiting a local fishing harbour to find out about sustainable methods of seaweed farming. The hands-on activities included planting green belt, observing seaweed under the microscope, and coral planting.
The students planted vetiver grass on local farmland in order to prevent red soil run-off, which can be damaging for coral reefs.
The students visited seaweed farm in local fishing harbour to learn about sustainable methods of seaweed farming.
On day two, there was an online greeting session in which the staff and students from Hawaii and Okinawa introduced themselves. The session opened with a classical Okinawan musical performance and a traditional Hawaiian prayer. Dr Misaki Takabayashi, Vice Dean of the Graduate School at OIST, welcomed the participants and explained the importance of environmental sustainability for island communities, which are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change compared to continental countries. Dr Takabayashi told the students, “You will be the inventors of the future,” and encouraged them to use the wisdom passed down through island societies to develop sustainable innovations.
The students observed different kinds of seaweed by eye and under the microscope and learned how seaweed can be used in daily life.
At the end of the week, the students prepared presentations to explain what they had learned during the workshop. Although the participants from Okinawa did not travel to Hawaii this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, the students from both countries presented their work and had the chance to ask each other questions during an online ceremony.
Overall, the workshop was a lively and fruitful experience for all involved. The participants from both countries went away with new friends, new ideas about how to live more sustainably and a sense of pride in their island communities.
Related article: Bridging science and traditional practices across cultures