I, my brother Richard, sister Sybil, and family accept the Lifetime Achievement award on behalf of our mother, Mae Nishioka.
We would like to thank the Hawaiʻi Council of Engineering Societies for the selection and Hawaiʻi Chapter of the Society of Women Engineers for the nomination. I would also like to extend a personal thanks to Pearl Yamaguchi and Kristen Yoshida.
Why did our mother choose the exclusively male field of engineering? Why didn’t she choose the female-dominated field of nursing as our grandmother had? Hanayo Nakatani was the first nurse of Japanese ancestry to graduate from The Queen’s nursing program, blazing a trail that our mother could have followed without being questioned or underestimated. Perhaps the answer could be found in her youth.
As a child, she excelled in math and hung out with the gang from Glover Construction, which was co-founded by our grandfather, Richard Nakatani. Her Uncle Minoru was an engineer with Glover and let her go on surveying jobs with him, entrusting her with some pretty complex calculations.
When she chose to pursue a degree in engineering at the University of Hawai’i, she was warned about the double standards and prejudices that she would face. When she showed up for her first engineering class, the professor believed she was confused and told her that she should be in the Home Economics Building, next door. Nonetheless, she persisted. With encouragement from the dean (Wilfred J. Holmes), she continued to take classes. The atmosphere improved and she proved herself in the classroom. Her determination in the face of overwhelming odds became a topic of interest to the general public. Articles written about her began to appear in the newspapers, leading to her becoming a celebrity of sorts. By 1950, she had won, becoming the first female to graduate with a degree in engineering from UH. With her victory came admiration, respect, and our dad— Rikio. Four years later, she became Hawaiʻi’s first female licensed Professional Engineer.
She believed in giving back to the community—officiating at swimming meets, giving her time to Altrusa International, and mentoring aspiring engineers one-on-one through SWE.
As someone who overcame challenges, she now offers a challenge to you—find and nurture the next generation of engineers. Children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, neighborhood kids. At career fairs and schools, especially at your alma mater. Offer summer internships for high school and college students. Mentor someone, the knowledge and insight you give will be re-paid a thousand-fold in the excitement, curiosity, and energy they give back to you.