Point Loma Nazarene’s role in Kyoto Prize Symposium aims to propel students on a scientific path

High school students and university undergraduates were recipients of 2022 Kyoto scholarships.
High school students and university undergraduates were recipients of 2022 Kyoto scholarships supported by the Inamori Foundation.
(Marcus Emerson / Courtesy of PLNU)

The Kyoto Prize, an award for lifetime achievements in the arts and sciences, is celebrated both in Kyoto, Japan, and San Diego.

Each year, three Kyoto Prize laureates come to San Diego to give lectures and interact with students at the Kyoto Prize Symposium presented by Point Loma Nazarene University and UC San Diego.

Richard Davis, executive director of the Kyoto Symposium Organization, a San Diego-based nonprofit, says the event helps promote arts and sciences. Since 2004, the symposium has generated more than $4.3 million for scholarships, fellowships and other educational opportunities in the San Diego and Baja California region.

“San Diego is honored to be one of only two Kyoto Prize hosts outside of Japan,” Davis said. “The Inamori Foundation [which funds the prize] provides valuable support for each of our co-host universities, UC San Diego and PLNU, through their scholarship programs. And each year our Kyoto scholarship recipients from San Diego and Tijuana impress and inspire us, carrying on the legacy of ... Kazuo Inamori and his life’s work.”

Inamori is a Japanese philanthropist, entrepreneur and founder of Kyocera, an industrial ceramics and electronics manufacturer, and KDDI, a telecommunications operator.

With support from the Inamori Foundation, the UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies founded the Kyoto scholarship in 2020 to promote exceptional young students seeking to follow in the same disciplines as Kyoto Prize laureates.

This year’s symposium laureates were Andrew Chi-Chih Yao, a computer scientist and computational theorist; Bruno Latour, a philosopher, anthropologist and sociologist; and Robert Roeder, a biochemist and molecular biologist. Each of the laureates presented lectures during the symposium in late March, with Roeder in person and Yao and Latour giving virtual talks.

Scholarship applicants were asked to learn about one of the three laureates and write a short essay describing how the laureate’s work inspires their own life, studies or career plans.

“I think the Kyoto Prize gives [students] the recognition that science matters, that doing science is important and there is good funding for research,” said Point Loma Nazarene Chemistry Department Chairman Matthieu Rouffet, who helped select undergraduate scholarship recipients. “That’s going to propel them forward and say, ‘I want to keep doing that.’”

That sentiment was echoed by some of the high school recipients of the scholarship.

Raj Pabari, a senior at Classical Academy High School in Escondido, was awarded the scholarship in the advanced technology category. Pabari said in a statement that he sees himself innovating computers for a better world and cited his admiration of Yao’s work in the field.

“His ingenuity, problem-solving approach and philosophy of thinking big to accomplish a breakthrough resonates strongly with me,” Pabari said.

For Pabari, having the chance to attend lectures by people who are outstanding in their fields was inspiring.

“It was great to get a little more context about the people I learned about and wrote about,” Pabari said. “The people that created the field of study we are entering are still contributing to the field. I found that really interesting.”

Chula Vista High School senior and valedictorian Sheyla Rodriguez, who was awarded the scholarship in philosophy, watched the livestream of the symposium.

“I was inspired and also intimidated by all the work they had done, all the books written by Bruno Latour,” Rodriguez said. “I definitely identified with the three selected winners this year.”

Rodriguez said Latour’s virtual lecture was inspiring.

“Kyoto definitely strengthened that path that I see for myself,” Rodriguez said. “Being one of the scholarship winners puts me in a space where I can inspire others and show that someone with my background can accomplish things. I don’t feel as intimidated or have as much of an impostor syndrome. I believe that I can accomplish more in the future.”

“I think the Kyoto Prize gives [students] the recognition that science matters, that doing science is important and there is good funding for research. That’s going to propel them forward and say, ‘I want to keep doing that.’”

— Matthieu Rouffet, Point Loma Nazarene University Chemistry Department chairman

For the undergraduate university students who received scholarships, Rouffet says the funding for summer research that accompanies the award is “essential.”

“The financial support has been huge for us,” he said. “They have been very generous. ... This is a great way to continue summer research with students. Especially for a small university like us, this makes a huge impact.”

“San Diego is a massive biotech hub,” Rouffet added. “And it’s hiring a lot. In the next couple of years, they expect a whole lot of positions to be open for young undergrads. We try to meet the needs for San Diego. This kind of collaboration [between UCSD and PLNU] allows more and more students to get the exposure they need and the skill set to be ready to work in those kinds of positions.

“We don’t try to compete [with other schools]. We’re purposefully not trying to say we’re better than other schools. More recently, Point Loma was recognized by the EDC [Economic Development Corp.] as a preferred provider for life science scholars. The goal is not to say that one school is better than the others; the goal is to have all the universities step up and say, ‘What are we doing in our programs to train the next generation of scientists to work in biotech?’”

Pabari has been accepted to Stanford University and plans to major in computer science and management science.

Rodriguez has been accepted to Yale and intends to major in history and is considering the pre-law track.