The University of Alaska Southeast is proud to announce the 2011 Outstanding Graduate in Social Sciences, Yoko Kugo.
Kugo received an Associate’s degree from the UAS Sitka campus before coming to UAS in Juneau to complete her Bachelor’s degree. Kugo arrived in Southeast Alaska from Tokyo, Japan. She was drawn by the unique cultures and traditions of the region.
“I like different cultures,” said Kugo, who has lived and traveled in Australia, Minnesota and many other places in the United States. “I like learning about how cultures are different but similar, like how people treat and respect others.”
Kugo has been very involved in campus life; she was employed as a student worker in the Arts and Sciences Department, the School of Management and the Egan Library, where she took care of a banana tree that produced fruit last year.
In addition to working on campus, Kugo is an active member in the UAS Japanese Club, which recently raised $2,520 for the earthquake and tsunami recovery effort in Japan. These events hit close to home for Kugo, who knows people in the affected areas and is unsure of the wellbeing of some of her friends.
“I’ve been watching the Japanese news a lot,” said Kugo. “It’s like the end of the world.”
Kugo is heading home for a week, where one of the main challenges will be keeping warm with reduced electricity.
“I will have to bring my warm coat when I go home,” Kugo explained. “There is not enough electricity now. My friends are saying they have to wear coats inside the houses. It will be worse in the summer when it is hot and humid. They say it could be years before everything is back to normal.”
Kugo plans to attend graduate school either at UAA or UAF in the field of anthropology, where she wants to take what she has learned at UAS about Alaska Native culture and basketry and apply it to her graduate studies.
Kugo’s interest in basket weaving lead to many different research opportunities. She recently presented a research paper in Seattle on the traditional use of trees by Southeast Alaskan Natives and the affect of environmental and economic changes on weaving and carving.
“It is so interesting,” said Kugo. “I started with weaving baskets. I talked to elders, weavers, carvers and I did library research. Now I’m more interested in how basket weaving has been changed; possible (impacts of) ecological change or possible economic change and political change.”
Kugo said talking with professors has been a helpful and useful resource.
“If I find sources, I’ll talk to Dan (Monteith, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Chair of Social Sciences) and he’ll say ‘Oh I know that one. It’s a good one.’ It is nice to talk to professors,” she said. “Most people have connections with other people, to the community or another tribe. Sometimes I go to Cathy Connor, (Professor of Geology, Environmental Science). She knows so many locals (in Juneau). She just tells me ‘You should go find so-and-so. They should be in the phone book.’ It’s amazing.”
Some of Kugo’s best teachers are not from a university. They are simply members of the community who enjoy sharing their knowledge. Some of these community members include renowned artists Teri Rofkar of Sitka and Delores Churchill of Ketchikan.
Wendy Girven, Assistant Professor of Library Science and Public Services Librarian and advisor to the Japanese club has worked with Kugo through the library and the Japanese club. She believes Kugo is a truly amazing student.
“(Yoko) is very adventurous and very hard working,” said Girven. “She is really interested in understanding the culture of Alaska and has really embraced the Alaskan lifestyle. She does a lot of research for an undergraduate, especially for a student who isn’t doing research in the hard sciences. I think it shows what an exemplary student she is.”
UAS’ 2011 Commencement will be held at 2 p.m. on May 1 at the UAS Recreation Center.