Women’s Cybersecurity Exchange Program Promotes Diversity

UNC, in partnership with Nagoya University in Japan, launched a program last fall to emphasize diversity and cultural differences in the field of cybersecurity through hands-on experience.

The Women’s Undergraduate Cybersecurity Engagement Program is sponsored by the U.S. Embassy Tokyo Public Affairs Section and overseen by the Office of the Vice Provost for Global Affairs. The program was initiated as part of Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good, the University’s strategic plan. Programs such as cybersecurity, entrepreneurship and biomedical engineering exchanges with Nagoya University aim to broaden perspectives and create global connections.

The initiative also addresses the gender disparity in cybersecurity.

“Tech is a predominantly male field, especially in national security and government sectors,” said Isabel Lucas, a UNC sophomore from Montclair, New Jersey, who participated in the program. “Getting women interested and excited is opening up a door to them and providing opportunities for mentorship and peer networking that they might not otherwise have.”

The exchange began in September when UNC hosted seven female students from Nagoya to attend events and illustrate how cybersecurity is applied in the United States. “We did a lot of cool activities, including a scavenger hunt and a [virtual reality] workshop with some folks from N.C. State, looking at the different ways cultural competency can work because Japanese and American cultures are really different,” said Lucas, who helped coordinate the program for the visit.

In December, the exchange continued when six female students from UNC traveled to Nagoya. During their visit, students attended lectures, participated in cybersecurity simulations and spent time with students at Nagoya University. Lucas attended the Japan trip and said seeing the city sights was captivating. “We went to Nagoya Castle, which is this huge, Shogun-era temple they have in the middle of their city,” she said. “That was super neat.”

When they weren’t studying, the students experienced Japanese karaoke and participated in a problem-solving challenge with Nagoya’s Lego Club. “We got into teams with Japanese students, and we were tasked with building the tallest tower we could out of Legos,” Lucas said. “Even though we didn’t speak any Japanese and they spoke some English, but not a lot, we were able to work together and do that as a group.”

Participating women represented various cultural backgrounds and fields of study beyond computer and data science, including engineering, medicine and nursing.

The exchange program not only focuses on technical aspects but also delves into cultural nuances. “There’s some very small things like exchanging different kinds of candy, to bigger things about how we show respect to one another,” Lucas said. “They might bow and we might shake hands. Americans tend to speak loud and fast, whereas in Japan they tend to speak softer. It’s a combination of both little and bigger things.”

Details for the 2024–25 school year have not been released.

— Cameron Hayes Fardy ’23

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