The Kawaguchi, Japan native served as an undergraduate assistant from 2004-2005 at OSU before heading to UCSB.
As a swimmer at Oregon State, she helped her team place in the top 25 at NCAAs for the first time in school history. To this day, she still holds the dual meet career win record with 104 victories. Higashijima set five individual and one relay record during her career, and two of those individual records still stand to this day. In 2002, as a junior, she finished 10th at NCAAs in the 200 fly, and the following season she scored a first-team All-American honor by touching eighth in the same event.
As a coach at UCSB, Higashijima worked primarily with sprinters and recruited for both the men's and women's teams. She helped coach 13 men and women to 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying marks, which was the most in school history at that time. UCSB had seven All-Americans and All-Academic honorees for the women's team during her time, as well as two scholar-athletes of the year and seven Big West Conference team titles. She also helped the women's team to a top 25 showing at the NCAAs for the first time since 1988.
Higashijima's father, Shinji, was a national record holder in the individual medley and currently works for FINA. Her mother, Kaoru, was a national champion swimmer in college in the middle distance events and currently is a swim coach. Her brother, Issei, was a national record holder in the 5k and the team manager at Michigan for the men's team in 2005 and 2006, while her youngest brother, Sho, helped the men's basketball team at Pima Community College in Tucson to advance to the national championships in the 2009-2010 season.