Programs like ADVANCE and GROW help encourage women interested in science, math and engineering disciplines to pursue occupations once dominated by men. However, these types of organizations were not always available at K-State. There was a time when a woman might enter a department as the sole female.
This was the case for Dee Takemoto, professor of biochemistry, and she changed that.
Before she started in the research line with the Department of Biochemistry in 1979, Takemoto got her Ph.D. and did post-doctoral work at schools on the East Coast.
She said there were few women getting their Ph.D.’s in a science field at the time, but many of them went to work on the East and West Coasts. When she attended school on the East Coast, there were several women faculty members who recently had been hired. But when she came to K-State, she was the first and only woman in the biochemistry department.
“When I came here, I don’t want to say it was a step backwards, but it was like back in time,” she said. “[K-State] had some catching up to do, and people were aware of that.”
Takemoto met with the provost at the time, Jim Cochran, to enhance the recruitment and retention of women faculty on campus. With the help of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, they created the first program for mentoring women and minorities in science, math and engineering fields.
“That was the first ever, like a pilot program,” Takemoto said. “Now they’re all over the United States, and we are real proud of that.”
Takemoto said she has seen definite improvement in the representation of women in science on campus. She said the programs she helped create when she first came to K-State are still around and benefiting women.
“I think the women on this campus really feel a sense of having someone to reach out to,” she said.
Takemoto was awarded the Distinguished Graduate Faculty Award for 2007-08. The award is given to “those faculty who have distinguished themselves nationally and internationally for excellence in research and graduate education,” according to the Graduate School’s Web site.
Her research has included work about the eye and its proteins in the retina and identifying antioxidants in foods that prevent cancer.
Teaching is another one of Takemoto’s passions. She received a minor in secondary education as an undergraduate and spent a year teaching high-school biology before going to graduate school. Now she enjoys interacting with undergraduates at K-State.
“It’s fun dealing with them,” Takemoto said. “That’s the point in their life that they have their whole life ahead of them; they’re very positive, and they’re fun to be with. It’s fun to watch them go off to professional schools, and it’s fun watching them now. They’ve come full circle.”
Besides being an undergraduate adviser, Takemoto also teaches an undergraduate course, Biochemistry in Society. She teaches the course with another biochemistry professor, John Tomich. The two recently restructured and wrote the book and lab book for the class.
“It’s funny because you think that if you are a professor, you only teach upper-level courses, but in our department we do it differently,” she said. “It’s very easy to teach an upper-level course-it’s just a content component and not really as much teaching skill.”
A BALANCING ACT
Takemoto balances her research time with her teaching, but she also balances her work and home life. Her husband is a distinguished professor of biology, and the Takemotos have two daughters.
With two scientists in the family, Takemoto said it was difficult for them both to find a job at the same university, but they were fortunate when they found K-State. She said finding a balance between work and home is important, and she has given talks to women scientists about the issue.
She said some key components to the balancing act are splitting up duties at home, having good childcare and not having to commute far, which is why the Takemotos like Manhattan.
“That was a real plus in this town-we didn’t have to drive very far,” she said. “It’s much easier in a smaller town. It’s safer so you don’t worry about your kids. It’s a family-friendly town in that aspect.”
Though she and her husband enjoy Manhattan, they stay true to their home in California where they both have family. They own a home there and visit for holidays and other occasions.
Someday, Takemoto said, they both will return to California for good, because “Californians are like salmon. They always go back to where they live.”
“We have this joke because people have this odd view of California, like it’s a different country,” she said. “We say we have to go back there to maintain our culture and our language.”
Takemoto has traveled across the world for research, and she occasionally finds time on her trips to hike, another hobby of hers. She would like to someday hike across England, following Hadrian’s Wall in spurts and stopping at bed-and-breakfasts.
As for her involvement on campus, she plans to continue her research and make sure that it’s continuously funded.
She said she also would like to improve the population’s knowledge of science.
“There’s a lot of interest in the United States on courses that reach out to people that are not in sciences to make the whole population more science-literate,” Takemoto said. “I’d like to perhaps get involved with starting a program here at K-State, like a science in society [course].”