Okinawa High School Girls Envision Future of Okinawa with Design Thinking

Fifteen high school girls from Okinawa participated in a 3-day hands-on program "STEAM & Design Thinking Workshop"

STEAM Design Thinking Workshop group photo

On 8th-10th October 2022, high school girls in Okinawa participated in a STEAM & Design Thinking Workshop at OIST, which was co-organized by OIST and SKY Labo. A group of 15 students from high schools across Okinawa Prefecture joined the workshop, with one of the participants coming from the remote island of Miyako. 

This collaborative workshop with SKY Labo aims to foster Okinawan high school girls’ interest in STEM through a hands-on Design Thinking workshop and is a part of the “Girls, Be Ambitious!” initiative launched in March 2022 to empower the next generation of women in science. The goal of this initiative is to inspire girls to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as a career.

The program is funded by the United States-Japan Foundation and Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

OIST PhD students participated in the workshop as the bilingual coaches
Nanako Okabe (left) and Nanami Tomoda (right), OIST PhD students, serve as the bilingual design coaches to mentor and support the high school girls during the workshop.

During the three-day workshop, the students learnt and practiced design thinking, which is introduced as one of the tools for problem solving. Design Thinking is not only a method for coming up with innovative solutions, but also a mindset that encourages designers to put people at the center of the design process and embrace the ambiguity of messy, complex needs 1.  With guidance by experts from SKY Labo, along with the support from OIST PhD students and staff as bilingual design coaches, the students learnt to think freely without fear of failure and challenged themselves in a Japanese-English bilingual learning environment.

Mariko Yang Yoshihara, one of the co-founders of SKY Labo said, “at SKY Labo, we employ an evidence-based learning approach in developing a curriculum. We collect data from the participants with the goal to empower the next generation of STEAM thinkers to integrate liberal arts in STEM learning. Our past research suggests that a short inquiry-based intervention, which utilizes design thinking as a pedagogical method, has had a strong influence on the female youths’ mindset, self-esteem, and STEM perspective.”

On the first day, the students focused on learning and exercising empathy as part of the human-centric approach of design thinking. The students are also introduced to the ‘Users’ whom they will interview as part of the problem-solving process, consisting of OIST staff and researchers, as well as experts involved in sustainability from other institutions. The students tried to identify the needs and problems in terms of sustainability, which is the theme of the workshop, through series of interviews with the Users.

One of the students pitched their ideas after the interview session and brainstormed with the rest of the group members.
One of the students pitched their ideas after the interview session and brainstormed with the rest of the group members.

On the following day, the students brainstormed on possible solutions and pitched their ideas to the Users to receive their feedback. After receiving the feedback, they went back to refine their ideas, working towards their final pitch. The last day ended with the students summarizing their design thinking process, starting from identifying the needs and problems to coming up with solutions.

Students presented their process in identifying and understanding the problems to pitching their solutions.
Final presentation – the students presented their process in identifying and understanding the problems to pitching their solutions.

It was an experience for the students to help boost their self-confidence so that they feel empowered to pursue their interest. 

“Learning how to utilize my creative thinking in critical problems by being reminded of my vision, aware of my responsibilities, an agent of smiles, will surely help me think outside the box, try with my absolute my best, and fail forward!” said one of the students in her anonymous feedback. “It was a very valuable experience for me to be in a group of people who have the ability to think out of the box, have a critical mind-set and the ability to get the team going in a variety of different directions.”

1SKY Labo. “Design Thinking.” Accessed January 20, 2023.

About SKY Labo
SKY Labo is a STEM education Japanese non-profit organization which fosters the next generation of innovative human resources in "STEM+α in Women's Education", adding Art to STEM. They develop and offer programs for junior high and high school girls in Japan.

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