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Dr. Tomomi Maekawa Reflects on First IICE and Shares thoughtful Response to Social Distancing

Updated: Apr 9

Dr. Tomomi Maekawa was introduced to the IEA through a university friend who found the website while searching for international academic conferences. At the time Tomomi was a Ph.D. candidate at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan. She was searching for an international conference where she could present her research on Coordination for Assisting Stakeholders to Collaborate on Addressing Local Environmental Issues: Learning from the Australian Landcare System for Application in Japan. When her friend mentioned the IEA, Tomomi thought that her presentation would fit nicely within the topics of the conference. Her decision to apply came after easing apprehensions about travelling a long distance alone, not knowing anyone at the conference, and never having been to Puerto Rico, Tomomi did not know what to expect. In the end, she applied and her research was accepted. She remembers thinking that her opportunity to attend was rare and doing it on her own made it special. She reasoned that the conference would be an opportunity to speak English with other foreign participants and by going alone, the experience would build character and make her more confident when traveling alone and going to unfamiliar places. For Tomomi, the culmination of these personal reasons in addition to the professional growth and networking opportunity she would have aided her decision to attend the IICE.

Tomomi reflects on how transformative the conference experience was and how she made unforgettable memories with participants and gained new insights from the multiple discussions and conversations she shared with other attendees. Tomomi gained confidence speaking English in front of an audience and within large group discussions, she recognized how important it is to communicate across countries and interdisciplinary backgrounds on our most crucial environmental and human challenges. The open communication at the conference promotes thoughtful dialogue on various perspectives that we need to better understand the issues on the environment, Tomomi explains. Moreover, Tomomi finds that the sense of community at the annual conference is so strong and welcoming. At the 2015 conference she shared warm memories and interactions with other participants and found the entire atmosphere to be helpful and encouraging. Tomomi reflects “I was encouraged by other participants with warm words of advice about my presentation, and I also made many friends there”.

Tomomi’s areas of research include the theory and practice of dialogue for consensus building, Community Design and community activities on natural resource management. At past conferences she has presented Landcare, research that focused on widespread community-based activities and the network that fosters the local environment of Australia and other countries and regions. This research topic was pursued when Tomomi studied in Australia at the Institute for Land, Water and Society at Charles Sturt University in 2013. With much support from CSU including professional relationships she made on the way, like the Australian Landcare International, Tomomi was able to carry out participatory observations and interviews with the experts of Landcare including local farmers and staff members of governments in Landcare across the state of Victoria. The outcomes of her research on

Landcare were presented at the 21st. International Interdisciplinary Conference on the Environment in 2015 where she talked about the facilitators in Landcare and their specific roles in local and regional communities to promote community-based natural resource management and tiered multi-party cooperation in Australia. Her research was published in the Interdisciplinary Environmental Review, which can be viewed here (Tomomi Maekawa and David Aron: Community Coordination for Addressing Local Environmental Challenges: Application of the Australian Landcare Model to Japan, Interdisciplinary Environmental Review, Vol. 17, Nos. 3/4, pp.167-181.) Moreover, Tomomi has conducted participatory research on community activities and the related networks that care for local rivers in Japan. In relation to this research, Tomomi with the collaboration of colleagues, has started to carry out an international dialogue project with volunteers from Melbourne Australia that aims to connect community experiences and knowledge from the different community activities between the two countries.

Today, Tomomi is continuing her research activities on the environment, especially in the area of participatory research and community activities. Throughout her research, she has made invaluable relationships with people from across the world and believes that these connections are what have made her life truly rich. She is currently teaching undergraduate students at Tokyo Woman's Christian University and graduate students at Graduate School of Engineering at Mie University in Japan as a lecturer in classes for learning about Community Design and Consensus Building. She is humbled to teach and finds great pleasure in passing on her own experiences and life lessons that she hopes encourages her students to make a difference in their world.

In Japan and all over the world we are facing serious challenges with the coronavirus pandemic, which is a critical environmental issue. Now we need social distance to protect families, friends, colleagues, and medical staff who are working tirelessly to save our lives. As the virus impedes on all aspects of our lives it has also caused the IEA to cancel this year’s International Interdisciplinary Conference on the Environment to protect its members and conference attendees. Tomomi says she will miss the once a year chance to see her IEA friends, but believes the physical distance between everyone right now is cultivating a sense of care in our hearts and minds. In this era of social distancing, we have become worried about families and friends that live far away and wonder if they are in good health and ask ourselves if they are worried too. Tomomi has found that social distancing can provide us with time to thoughtfully think about the ones we care about, which allows us to mindfully overcome physical distance and have hope for the future.

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