Visit to NASA & Rodeo Houston

While in Houston, our 2017 TOMODACHI STEM @ Rice University students had the opportunity to attend two special events the highlight key aspects of Houston and Texan culture.

The 2017 TOMODACHI STEM students visit NASA Space Center Houston! ~ Photo submitted by Keiko Kato, Graduate Student Assistant

First up was a visit to Space Center Houston – the home of NASA – on Saturday, March 11.  Led by our graduate student assistant Keiko Kato, the 2017 TOMODACHI STEM students got to tour the facilities including seeing the original Mission Control and the Saturn V rocket at Rocket Park.  It was a fun-filled day for all attendees and, since a number of our 2017 students are interested in aerospace research, tied in with their research interests as well.


Yee Haw! The 2017 TOMODACHI STEM students at Rodeo Houston! ~ Photo Submitted by Keiko Kato, Graduate Student Assistant

Then, on Monday, March 13 our students got to experience true Texan culture by attending Rice Night at the Rodeo! They got to take in the Houston Livestock Show Rodeo (opened by Rice University President David Leebron and Sammy the Owl) and including bull-riding, mutton bustin’, and barrel racing!  After the rodeo, they took in the rest of the festivities including trying out some yummy fair food, the carnival rides, and the animal exhibits. We hope y’all come back again and join us for another rodeo in the future!

It’s not the Rodeo without trying out some of the yummy food! ~ Photo submitted by Keiko Kato, Graduate Student Assistant

Dinner at Consulate General of Japan’s Home

Attendees at the dinner hosted by Consul General Amano on March 8, 2017.

On Wednesday, March 8 the 2017 TOMODACHI STEM students joined a number of US-Japan Council members and other guests for a special dinner at the home of Consul General Tetsuro Amano. The dinner was coordinated by the U.S-Japan Council and the purpose was to highlight the innovative TOMODACHI exchange programs in Houston that help connect young people between the United States and Japan, thank the donors and organizers that make student exchanges possible, and highlight the importance of people-to-people connections and exchanges in strengthening U.S.-Japan relations.

Attendees included:

  • Japanese undergraduate female STEM students participating in a short-term exchange program at Rice University through the 2017 TOMODACHI STEM @ Rice Program
  • American students participating in a KAKEHASHI exchange program between University of St. Thomas and Japan. This program is funded by Ministry of Foreign Affairs and implemented in partnership with the US-Japan Council.
  • U.S.-Japan Council members based in Houston
  • Various representatives of supporting companies including Dow, Chevron, Sumitomo, and Daiwa House.
  • and other Japanese business and community leaders.

Two of our students also had the opportunity to speak at this event and share about their experiences with U.S.-Japan educational exchanges.  Aya Kawamura from Nagoya University introduction the TOMODACHI STEM @ Rice University program and highlighted the importance of international research opportunities for STEM students.  Natsumi Komatsu from Keio University spoke about her one-year exchange study program at Rice University last year as a Sumitomo Scholar and the impact this had on her inter-cultural development and future goals.  Natsumi has now returned to Rice this spring as a participant in the 2017 TOMODACHI STEM @ Rice University program and is planning to pursue a PhD in the U.S. starting from this fall.

The evening was a wonderful way for our female students to celebrate International Women’s Day and we would like to thank Consul-General Amano and all his staff, especially Ms. Sato and Ms. Kawase, for graciously hosting the evening and gave memorable experience to the students.

Networking Brunch and Talk by Glen Gondo

On Sunday, March 5 and Monday, March 6 our 2017 TOMODACHI STEM students were able to participate in two special opportunities hosted by US-Japan Council members in Houston.

On Sunday, Donna Cole (Cole Chemicals/USJC) warmly welcomed our 10 students into her home for a networking brunch with Japanese professional women living and working in the Houston area. Over brunch, the attendees shared information about their career paths, life in the U.S. as a professional woman, and how they have tried to find work-life balance.  Their stories proved truly inspiring for our students and helped them think more deeply about their own future career goals and objectives.  The students really enjoyed this special treat and felt truly welcomed not just by Rice but by the whole community in Houston.

Many of our students wrote about the impact of this networking brunch in their Week 1 reports which you can read in their 2017 Participant Profiles.

Photo of the Networking Brunch hosted by Donna Cole ~ Submitted by Deborah Grant, USJC

Then, on the evening of Monday, March 6 our students had the opportunity to hear US-Japan Council Board Member Glen Gondo (Gondo Company/USJC) speak about his experience as a Japanese-American in the U.S. and learn more about his successful career in business. A number of students from the University of St. Thomas attended as well and after the talk the student’s go to tour the sushi preparation area of HEB. They also had the opportunity to watch the documentary “Off the Menu: Asian American” featuring Glen in his role as the acclaimed “Sushi King of Houston”.

2017 TOMODACHI STEM Students Visit Dow Chemical

On Thursday, March 2 the 2017 TOMODACHI STEM @ Rice University students had the opportunity to visit Dow Chemical in Freeport, Texas. Dow employs people in the state of Texas in areas including research and development, engineering, human resources, technical service, operations and manufacturing. There are manufacturing sites located at Freeport, Deer Park, Texas City, Seadrift, and La Porte. The Freeport site is also a research and development center. Additionally, Dow has a business center located in Houston.

Dow facilities in Texas produce billions of pounds of products each year that enhance the quality of life for people around the globe. Dow products serve virtually every consumer market ranging from food to building and construction and from health and medicine to transportation. These products are used in a variety of end-use products – office supplies, mouthwash, pharmaceuticals, computers, furniture, paints, carpet, garbage bags, cosmetics, chewing gum, lozenges, cleaning products and food.

2017 TOMODACHI STEM student with Dow panelists. Front Row (L to R): Ting Jiang (Dow), Kaoru Aou (Dow), Marcela Buentello (Dow), Erika Vergara (Dow). Middle Row (L to R): Kana Yoshida (Tottori Univ.), Aya Kawamura (Nagoya Univ.), Mizuki Tabata (Tokyo Inst. of Technology), Akane Katayama (Meiji Univ.), Shiho Nagai (Toyota Technological Inst.) Back Row (L to R: Gabriella Cone (Dow), HeeYung Woo (Kyushu Univ.), Yumiko Kimura (Tokyo Univ. of Science), Mio Kamasaka (Tokyo Inst. of Technology), Natsumi Komatsu (Keio Univ.) Not Pictured: Sawa Shimokawa (Osaka Univ.)

During our full-day site visit at Dow, students received an introduction to the company from Public Affairs Director David Winder and also had the opportunity to learn more about life at Dow through a panel discussion with Dow employees.  The students received helpful advice from the panelists on choosing your career path, work-life balance, and opportunities in industry for STEM master’s and PhD graduates. Panelists included:

  • Kaoru Aou who is a Principal research Scientist, Polyurethanes R&D
  • Marcela Buentello who is the I-Park/Work Processes/Management Systems Leader for Texas Operations Reliability and Maintenance organization.   
  • Ting Jiang who is an Operations Leader for GMA (Glycidyl Methacrylate).
  • Erika Vergara who is currently the Business Quality Leader (BQL) for 2 different business units- Ethylene Oxide/Ethylene Glycol and Polyglycols, Surfactants & Fluids.

Our day at Dow concluded with a visit to Pack Studios were our students learned more about Dow’s testing facility for produce packaging and got a tour of the factory.  Special thanks to Gabriella Cone, Community Relations Manager, for her coordination of our visit.



Watching the Houston Ballet’s performance of Cinderella. ~ Yumiko Kimura, 2017 TOMODACHI STEM

But our day was not done yet! After leaving Dow we headed to Downtown Houston for a behind the scenes tour of the Houston Ballet led by Executive Director James Nelson and Development Associate, and former ballerina, Nao Kusuzaki. From watching some student classes and rehearsals to exploring the costume shop and learning more about the construction of tutus and pointe shoes this was a special opportunity for the students to learn about the amazing performance and art scene in Houston.  Some of our students were so inspired by our tour that they used their first free afternoon in Houston to buy tickets to attend the Houston Ballet’s production of Cinderella on Saturday, March 4. 

Dinner at Spaghetti Warehouse

After our tour of the Ballet, U.S-Japan Council Board Member Donna Cole generously hosted our students for a casual dinner at the Spaghetti Warehouse.  We were treated to a family-style Italian feast and the students saw first-hand that everything truly is bigger in Texas including portion sizes! A few students from the University of St. Thomas’ Kakehashi Program who were preparing to travel to Japan during their spring break week also attended.

Heartfelt thanks to all who made this day possible for our students.  To learn more about the student’s first week in Houston see the 2017 Participant Profiles.


2017 TOMODACHI STEM @ Rice Program For Female Students Now Accepting Applications

2017 TOMODACHI STEM @ Rice University for Female Students Now Accepting Applications – Apply by Nov. 2

The 2017 TOMODACHI-STEM @ Rice University for Female Students is a five-week research internship program for 10 female undergraduates from Japan who are majoring in science & engineering (S&E). Held at Rice University in Houston, TX, the program will enable students to gain real world experience with S&E research, provide an introduction to U.S.


TOMODACHI-STEM @ Rice University is a five-week research internship program for 10 Japanese undergraduate students majoring in science & engineering (S&E). Held at Rice University in Houston, TX, the program will enable students to gain real world experience with S&E research, provide an introduction to U.S. higher education and provide opportunities for cultural engagement and collaboration with U.S. students. The program will serve as a catalyst for Japanese students interested in S&E study and research and engagement with the U.S. through international research collaborations.

The objectives of TOMODACHI-STEM @ Rice University are to:

  • Cultivate an interest in science and engineering research and research collaborations between the U.S. and Japan;
  • Nurture the next generation of science and engineering students in Japan;
  • Contribute to the development of a generation of internationally savvy Japanese students who have a specific interest in and knowledge of the U.S.; and
  • Educate students in culture, language, and technology, in order that they may be more effective when addressing global scientific problems.

The planned program dates are from February 21 – March 27, 2016 and will expose these young scientists and engineers to cutting-edge research in a diverse range of science and engineering fields. Japanese participants will be placed in teams of two into a Rice University research lab where they will spend four weeks working on a research project under the advisement of the U.S. professor and their assigned U.S. graduate student mentor. The capstone experience of the research internship will be the development of a research project poster that will be presented at a symposium held at Rice University and that can be presented to the student’s home university upon their return to Japan. In addition to research, students will also participate in weekly English language classes, an Introduction to Science & Engineering Research in the U.S. seminar, and cultural activities and excursions. Following the completion of the four-week internship, students will travel to Washington, DC for a one-week Science & Technology Policy Study Tour.

The program is generously funded by a grant from the TOMODACHI Initiative.

About the TOMODACHI Initiative The TOMODACHI Initiative is a public-private partnership between the U.S.-Japan Council and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Born out of support for Japan’s recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake, TOMODACHI invests in the next generation of Japanese and American leaders through educational and cultural exchanges as well as leadership programs. We seek to foster a “TOMODACHI Generation” of young American and Japanese leaders who are committed to and engaged in strengthening U.S.-Japan relations, appreciate each other’s countries and cultures, and possess the global skills and mindsets needed to contribute to and thrive in a more cooperative, prosperous, and secure world.”

For more information please visit the TOMODACHI Initiative website.