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HOME > No.24, Feb. 2021 > Changing the world and contributing to society through technological science

Changing the world and contributing to society through technological science

Aiming to be a vibrant university

Kazuhiko Terashima

Introducing President Kazuhiko Terashima, who became Toyohashi University of Technology’s new president in April 2020 in the midst of the global crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Immediately upon taking up his post, he began work on COVID-19 countermeasures, while keeping the preservation of student education and research as his first priorities. Choosing to see ‘tough times as an opportunity’, President Terashima speaks about the new role of the university in a world shaped by COVID-19. It is his belief that, by furthering mastery of our fields of expertise in sensing, AI, IoT and robotics, TUT can contribute to the resolution of social problems faced by the local community and the world beyond.

Interview and report by Madoka Tainaka

To keep education and research going

In the spring of 2020, many Japanese universities switched from the traditional in-person classes to online or on-demand education, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. TUT did the same, cancelling its Entrance Ceremony, and beginning preparations for remote on-demand classes in April that were launched in May. While this was happening, President Terashima was striving to guarantee continued high standards in the quality of education and research.

"We worked like crazy and little-by-little we are seeing the results. The teachers needed to hastily prepare video recordings for the on-demand lectures amongst other things, and I think they went through a lot of difficulties, but the on-demand learning is effective for preparation and revision, and I even feel that there are elements that make it a more suitable method for the acquisition of knowledge. Also, around 300 out of our 2,000 students are international students and many new international students and students on temporary leave from Japan were unable to travel to Japan, so the online classes allowed them to take their classes remotely from their home countries.

On the other hand, there were many things that gave me a solid sense of the advantages of in-person classes. There are some things that are only born through teachers and students having face-to-face discussions and communicating with each other. The epitome of this is research. As remote learning continues, some argue that there is no more need for universities, but universities play an important role by providing a space and an opportunity for research. So thorough COVID-19 measures are indispensable," President Terashima stresses.

However, President Terashima confesses that he went through a lot of pains implementing COVID-19 measures because of TUT’s unique circumstances. One third of the student population lives in the on-campus dormitories, and there are many students who come in and out of the laboratories for experiments or research. If we were not careful, we could have had a cluster of COVID-19 cases. Furthermore, about 180 students primarily in the Global Technology Architects Course live in a share-house type of dormitory, and both Japanese and international students live together with 5 people per room.

"I was torn, but I strongly believed that we must keep our education and research going, so we dealt with the issue by thoroughly enforcing a new way of life, hand-washing, disinfecting and avoiding the 3Cs. Thanks to these measures, we have made it to the present without creating any clusters."

Focusing on improving the learning environment through sending messages and financial support

On the other hand, President Terashima came up with his own ideas for unique measures as he wanted to support the students who were feeling anxious about the COVID-19 crisis. One of those ideas is the TUT Ale Lunch.
"Every Friday in May, we offered residents of the student dormitories a balanced lunch worth 500 JPY for free. I believe it helped a little with the students’ mental and physical health.

President Terashima with students eating "TUT Ale Lunch" at the university cafeteria.
President Terashima with students eating "TUT Ale Lunch" at the university cafeteria.

I myself sent messages to the students on the TUT website for 5 weeks from April to May in a series entitled "Ale for students - A Message from President Terashima". I delivered these messages, about globalization, SGDs, 50 Tips for Adults (Tera-go-roku) - the principles that I live by on a daily basis, my field of expertise - robotic engineering, via text and video. In the final installment, ‘The History of Infectious Diseases – Fortune is Unpredictable and Changeable’, I retraced the history of infectious diseases, and encouraged the students to ‘turn hardship into opportunity’."

"Ale for students" – A series of on-line messages from President Terashima
"Ale for students" – A series of on-line messages from President Terashima

In this series, President Terashima highlighted the example of Isaac Newton, who, over 300 years ago, was forced to returned to his hometown because Cambridge University had been temporarily closed due to an outbreak of the plague. Newton, however, took advantage of this extra time to think freely, and ended up discovering the law of universal gravitation. President Terashima says "Now, at a time where it is difficult to move freely, I want you to improve yourselves through reading and deep thought."

As financial support, President Terashima created an independent support plan for the university and gave 30,000 JPY to each of the 2000 students as a subsidy. This was the first time a national university has ever done such a thing.

"80% of the students at this school are graduates from KOSEN technical colleges all over the country, and most are living away from their parents. We needed to improve the network environment, including Wi-Fi, for distance learning, and so I thought it could help with that. I have also heard that some of our students are experiencing poverty as a result of COVID-19, so I introduced those students to exemptions for tuition fees and scholarships."

To cover part of these fees, the university established a ‘COVID-19 Measures Fund’ and asked teachers and graduates to donate, raising over 20 million yen already. The unity and strength of our alumni association is one of the biggest attractions of this university.

A new role for the university in a world shaped by COVID-19

Far from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, many people are worried that we are heading into the third wave of the spread of the virus. President Terashima however, is focusing on creating a new image for the university.

"I believe that the role of a university is education and research, and the mission of education and research in technology is to produce brilliant students and brilliant research findings to contribute to the community. The source of this is energetic teachers and students with a strong will and mission, and I have high expectations for their propensity for enterprise.

Teaching and honing one’s skills can both be done online or on-demand. That is to say that knowledge can be acquired remotely. However, fostering and mastering require an exchange of opinions by teachers and students, particularly in engineering, it is necessary to actually move one’s hands to create things and perform experiments. In order to create innovation through inspiration, it is necessary to put into practice the wisdom cultivated through real-life experience. Therefore, in the future, I would like to reduce the ratio of remote and face-to-face classes to one to one, and focus on nurturing and mastering skills in the face-to-face classes."

President Terashima also laid out his vision for making the most of TUT’s unique characteristic – that it is home to many technical college graduates – by strengthening its CPS (Cyber Physical Systems) technology, such as sensing, IoT/AI and robotics, to pave the way for TUT to become a world leader in education and research.

"This is an essential field to achieve the ‘Society 5.0’ touted by the Japanese government - a human-centered society that balances economic advancement with the resolution of social problems by means of a system that employs a highly integrated fusion of cyberspace and physical space. And I believe that cooperation is the key, with other countries, between industry and academia, and with the local community.

In terms of international cooperation, TUT puts an emphasis on multiculturalism, and not only do we actively welcome international students, we also offer a myriad of programs, such as overseas internships, double degree programs (a program in which students can obtain a degree from both TUT and a foreign university) and bilingual classes. While the COVID-19 crisis has made movement difficult, I believe that if we maintain our strong connections with foreign countries, we can continue to further advance multiculturalism.

Photosynthesis and transpiration real-time monitoring chamber

As for cooperation between industry and academia, we continue to advance joint research with companies through matching funding. Additionally, we are collecting funds by adopting projects from the Japan Science and Technology Agency’s Program on Open Innovation Platforms with Enterprises, Research Institutes and Academia (OPERA). In this way, in conjunction with industry, we seek to advance our research and development to the point of applying it to real-life situations in society. Through our research, we want to solve various social problems focusing mainly on our community. I wish for TUT to become one of the world’s leading engineering universities by doing so".


Reporter's Note

While President Terashima is managing the university, he also finds time to support TUT’s research, using his expert knowledge and connections in robot engineering.

"As you can see with the case of automobiles, it takes around 50 years from its birth for a technology to permeate society. Robotics first appeared around 1980, so in 10 years time, robots will likely have become a normal part of our daily lives. Robots used in care and medical facilities certainly have an important role to play".

“Terapio” – A medical round support robot
“Terapio” – A medical round support robot

In 2013, Fukushima Medical University and company presented ‘Terapio’, a robot who supports round visits within hospitals. Subsequent to this, they also supported the development of patrolling robots and robots who can converse in different languages. "Professor Michio Okada, the head of the TUT Center for Human-Robot Symbiosis Research, puts forward the idea of a ‘weak robot’, and aims for a more natural coexistence by encouraging humans to help robots with things they struggle with. I want to use this knowledge and combine it with sensors and AI technology to create a smart hospital to support the entire hospital."

President Terashima, who not only manages the university, but is also a dedicated researcher, will likely serve as a big inspiration for the students.

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Researcher Profile

Dr. Kazuhiko Terashima

Dr. Kazuhiko Terashima

Dr. Kazuhiko Terashima graduated bachelor course and master course in Mechanical Engineering in Kyoto Institute of Technology, and Phd course in Precision Mechanics of Graduate School in Kyoto University, respectively 1976, 1978 and 1981 respectively. He got Phd degree in Kyoto University at 1982. He became a Professor in Toyohashi University of Technology (TUT) at 1994, and Emeritus Professor at 2018. He is now President in TUT from April, 2020, via vice president during 6 years. His main subjects are control theory and its application to industry processes, and robotics with application to life support and smart hospital.

Reporter Profile

Madoka Tainaka

Madoka Tainaka is a freelance editor, writer and interpreter. She graduated in Law from Chuo University, Japan. She served as a chief editor of "Nature Interface" magazine, a committee for the promotion of Information and Science Technology at MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology).