By Michelle Armstrong
Makiko Yoshino has experienced more in the span of a few short years than do many over the course of a lifetime. Her love of education coupled with her proclivity for adventure have transported her across the globe from Tokyo, Japan to what her father refers to as the hub of "all things new"-New York City. Not only is the young woman who describes learning as "fun" now one of the regular faces among the crowded streets of the Big Apple, but today she is also a fully integrated member of the TC community.
Her academic pursuits can be traced back to the beginning of her undergraduate career at Toyo Eiwa Univeristy, a self-described "small and special" women's college in Tokyo. The institution underwent educational reform during Makiko's high school years when it established a 4-year degree program in 1989 to complement its community college. There, she majored in Human Sciences, a liberal arts track comprised of courses in education, religion, philosophy, and psychology. During her first two years, her primary interest lie in religious studies; however, subsequent studies with a mentor who was both an academic and court mediator between juveniles and judges sparked her curiosity about issues concerning youth delinquency. In fact, she concentrated on family counseling for her thesis.
But another faculty member at TEU greatly influenced her as well, a fact that is easy to understand when Makiko says that he was a TC alumnus! She enrolled in his course as a pre-requisite to the one with her mentor and says that "with him it was very interesting to discuss [topics]; I learned to think logically and how to [make] effective presentations; he inspired me very much to continue my educational life." Makiko contrasts his course with what she had previously experienced in school where she and other students were accustomed to being "very passive" because they "did not want to get a minus point" for unruly, disruptive behavior and thus, remained silent.
Graduating in 1996, Makiko was almost about to begin the job-hunting process when her parents encouraged her to continue her schooling. "I really like to communicate with people," she says, and the university setting creates the ideal venue for doing just that. Despite the fact that an estimated one-quarter of her college cohort were then preparing for family and career, she credits her mother and father's somewhat atypical attitudes regarding women's education as a key impetus behind her decision to apply to the College of Staten Island, a campus of the City University of New York. It was "fun to read" and to "think about topics of interest," something Makiko remembers as "really new for me," particularly since this plan of study was not as regimented as her previous educational experiences had been. Although people at home wondered why she would continue her studies somewhere as "dangerous" and "scary" as New York City, she laughs, her parents told her that this was the only place to be.
While the application process to CUNY posed challenges because it had to be completed entirely in English, Makiko opted not to hire a professional company to do so for her, a path that others sometimes follow. To her, such prudent reasoning was quite simple. "If I couldn't do it, how would I survive [in the U.S.]?"
Hailing from an urban locale like Tokyo, Makiko was excited about studying in suburbia where she could experience a campus setting. She cites the facilities and internal student support structure at CUNY as excellent, and recalls that she "had a wonderful time" during her year of study in the undergraduate program. "It was hard, but I was happy to be there." Recognizing how much she was enjoying herself, her parents recommended that she pursue graduate studies. So, she began the graduate school application process and was accepted into the Master's sociology program at City College of New York, as she was ready at this point to return to city living. Her decision to attend the school was based upon three key facets-an interest in researching family dysfunction from a sociological stance, its urban setting, and the college's involvement with Japanese educational issues.
In the months preceding her re-location from Japan to New York, she had worked for the National Institute for Educational Policy Research of Japan, a division of the country's Ministry of Education. Here, she says that she learned a great deal from the Senior Deputy about research methodologies and strategies. The benefits of this relationship proved long-lasting, as he introduced her to City College's Dr. Shields who not only was working to develop plans for the school's 150th anniversary of its relationship with the Japanese city of Shimoda, but was also joint with the TC faculty. She worked with him on the anniversary project and as a translator, the latter a role that she also assumed for 3 years as a volunteer language instructor for the college's undergraduates.
Makiko desired to gain a theoretical background, and learned about ethnic relations, deviant behavior, social issues, criminology, family interactions, and research methods, coursework that truly ignited her interest in juvenile delinquency issues in Japan. "Everything was new, and it was tough," but she states that she learned not only from textbooks, but also from classmates who spoke of their personal backgrounds during class discussions. She began to realize the value of a degree for her peers and what they were willing to sacrifice to acquire it, as they worked full-time jobs yet still attended class in the evening in aims of attaining their goals. This was especially poignant for her as her own schooling background had been primarily in private institutions where individuals were full-time students. Here, like at CUNY, she felt supported by faculty and classmates who vested interest in her to the extent of ensuring that she made it safely to the train station each night following class.
With the completion of this program in 2000, and upon recognition that her English was not at the level of proficiency that she thought satisfactory, Makiko enrolled in the American Language Program at Columbia University's School of Continuing Education. Her mother, too, had studied there. She took classes for 1-1/2 years and smiles when saying that she was "a very luck person to always have the best teachers," which meant, of course, more tests, papers, and assignments! The school's international student body helped her to learn about other Asian cultures as well as about European and Latin American perspectives. "It was a good opportunity to expand my [ideas] on international issues."
Makiko, nevertheless, knew that she wanted to link sociology with education. The Senior Deputy with whom she had worked in Tokyo had visited New York to conduct fieldwork while she was student at City College, and had brought her with him when he came to TC for his research. At that time, Makiko recalls, she never imagined that she would be a student here one day, but indeed, she now is.
She began in Fall 2002 as a candidate for the M.A. in Sociology and Education under the advisement of Aaron Pallas. "He really listens carefully and tries to find the best path for each student. I really learned a lot." In the spring of the following year, she transferred into the program in International Educational Development so that she might explore educational practices on a global basis from a sociological perspective. Makiko felt badly that her advisor might view this shift as somewhat of a betrayal, but he re-assured her by letting her know that he wanted to help her find the best path for her personal interests. She goes on to credit Hope Leichter, a professor in the IED program, with "making me think," similar to the TC alumnus in whose class she was enrolled while in college in Japan. For example, Leichter's Education in Community Settings class challenged her to consider the ways in which cultural facilities serve as primary sources for educational enrichment, and afforded her the opportunity to teach classmates ikebana, the Japanese art of floral arranging, as an example of how knowledge is transferred across international boundaries. She hopes that doing so helped others to gain an appreciation for this aspect of Japanese culture (for which Makiko has won several awards including at the annual orchid show at Rockefeller Center), just as she herself has been able to discover an appreciation of others' backgrounds as well as that of her own. She calls both Pallas and Leichter "deep thinkers." She says that they are "good listeners," and that this helps to make them excellent advisors. Students like Keiko Todoroki have also been resources, as this fellow pupil shared with her details concerning her own positive experiences in IED. In addition, Dale Snauwaert's class taught her philosophies regarding governmental regimes and moral education, and helped her to determine her focus on studying the impact of Japanese parents' exceedingly high expectations of their children on the country's growing number of juvenile delinquents. "It was the right time, right place" Makiko believes in which she met these influential faculty members and kind friends.
Just as these persons are widely reputed for their contributions in their respective fields, she, too, wants to impact Japan by working to modify its educational policies so that a greater emphasis is placed on helping students develop critical thinking skills as opposed to simply focusing on grades. At present, she is an intern at an advertising agency that prides itself on maintaining an international outlook. This ties into her research, as her Master's project will examine how people make career choices and the ways in which this decision-making process possibly relates to juvenile delinquent behavior because of the power structure of corporations in which youth are unable to identify mentor networks. Surely Makiko's unique background will poise her to play an integral role in educational initiatives once she returns home, but until that time, the States will benefit from this young scholar's certain contributions to research that is truly incorporative of a world of experiences.