Diversity, inclusion, and bravery: OIST President speaks at a seminar by the University of Ryukyus

President Karin Markides spoke about her background, how she came to OIST, and approaches for increasing diversity and inclusion in universities.

Screenshot of OIST president Karin Markides at the Ryudai online seminar

Conducting leading research and leading researchers are two very different things — and yet, the areas of expertise overlap. That is the crux of the story of Karin Markides, president and CEO of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST). She spoke at an online seminar hosted by the University of the Ryukyus (Ryudai), and shared her personal story, as well as how her story came to shape her leadership and efforts to improve diversity and inclusion at institutes of higher learning. 

The 17th Ryudai Future Forum × Diversity Promotion Top Seminar, hosted online on December 4, 2023, was opened by Executive Director and Vice President Yuei Fukuji of the University of the Ryukyus, after which President Markides was personally introduced by Mutsumi Nishida, President of the University of the Ryukyus. Over 130 people attended the online seminar.

One of the central characters in the story of President Markides was her father, who “always encouraged me to think outside the box. Be brave, he said. Go your own way, and wherever you go, leave it in a better shape than how you found it.” These dictums stayed with her throughout her professional life: from when she decided to pursue a second master’s degree, over commuting between the US and Sweden for five years, to leading the American University of Armenia in times of conflict.  

Throughout her career, President Markides has met institutional barriers. Not just because of her gender and parenthood, but also barriers between disciplines, and between university and the rest of society. Her mission has been to break down these barriers — whether it’s by fostering inclusion at universities, promoting academia-industry partnerships through startups, or placing higher learning institutions at the center of society. When asked by a seminar participant, President Markides stressed that the way to overcome these barriers personally is to proactively make connections and build trust: “As a PhD student, it’s important to build your network across disciplines, universities, and industries,” both to advance one’s own career, and to improve one’s research area. 

The desire to break down barriers continues to inform President Markides’s work in the highest office at OIST, with the key being inclusive and diverse connections that ultimately turn universities into hubs of greater change. “In the local setting, we need to be changemakers and connect with the public. At the national level, we must be a stakeholder that connects with other universities. And on the global stage, we need to build institutional attraction.” Only with bravery and diversity at heart can these three strands be aligned, and the barriers to personal and institutional success be overcome.” 

After President Markides' talk, the seminar concluded with a speech by Executive Director and Vice President Masahide Ishihara, Executive Vice President of the University of the Ryukyus.

We are grateful to the University of Ryukyus for its invitation to participate in the session and for its continued collaboration.

For press enquiries, please contact media@oist.jp

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