Colleen Fukui-Sketchley, ’94, is a proud UW alumna and an incredible supporter of the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity (OMA&D). For over 12 years she served as a member of the Friends of the Educational Opportunity Program board which works to increase access to higher education for underrepresented minority, first-generation and low-income students. Fukui-Sketchley recently reflected on her time as student at the UW and what inspires her to give back.
Q: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
Colleen Fukui-Sketchley: I am a fourth-generation Japanese American who was born and raised in the Seattle area. My family moved to Portland, Oregon when I entered the eighth grade but we returned to the area after four years.
Q: How would you describe your experience as a student at the UW?
Fukui-Sketchley: Like most college students, my experience at the UW was life-changing. My Dad told me that he was sending me to college to learn about life. He knew I would get by academically but he wanted me to go to the UW to learn concepts he couldn’t teach me without experiencing it firsthand…independence, responsibility, social politics, etc. Those four years were some of the best years of my life! I come from a family of Huskies. My Dad (Frank) majored in business, my Mom (Penny) has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master’s degree in educational administration, and my sister (Shelley) has a degree in industrial engineering.
Fukui-Sketchley: My favorite professor was Dr. William Purcell. I took a couple of his classes but my favorite was American Public Address. In the class we watched a series of speeches and one of them was “King: From Montgomery to Memphis.” It was an incredibly moving film and at the end Dr. Purcell was overcome with emotion and dismissed the class early. It is that moment that has stuck with me my entire life. It was that impactful day in his class that taught me what passion really looked like. When you allow something to touch your heart and when you feel truly connected to something, it’s not really “work.”
Q: What is one thing you wish you would have done or taken advantage of during your time at the UW?
Fukui-Sketchley: I wish I would have taken advantage of a study abroad program and internships. Those were not things that were stressed to us as students like they are today. Experiencing “real life” and understanding the practical application of what we learned in class would have been incredibly helpful prior to graduation.
Q: Were you involved in any OMA&D programs as a student and if so, what impact did that make on your educational and professional journeys?
Fukui-Sketchley: As a student, I was not involved in OMA&D programs but I did have the opportunity to learn about the programs prior to coming to the UW. My Mom worked at UW for many years with MESA and the Minority Engineering Program back in the 80’s. My sister and I volunteered to help her on the weekends with the classes that they hosted which introduced high school students to the STEM fields. My Mom has always chosen work that supports underrepresented populations and so I understood the work of OMA&D and the importance of it at an early age. Since graduating in 1994 I have attended all but one Celebration event and look forward to attending every single year.
Q: What is your current profession and where do you work?
Fukui-Sketchley: I am the Corporate Center Diversity Affairs Director for Nordstrom.
Q: What led you to your current position?
Fukui-Sketchley: I started at Nordstrom on the sales floor during my time at UW. I joined the company full time in June of 1994, just two weeks after graduation. I worked as a salesperson for about a year and then had the opportunity to work for the head of women’s designer apparel and was exposed to the buying/merchandising side of Nordstrom. I then found my home in diversity affairs. It is highly unusual these days for anyone to spend their entire career in one division of one company but I absolutely LOVE the work that I get to do and the company that I get to do it for. I recently tracked down Dr. Purcell, my favorite UW professor who is now at SPU, and told him that I have the same level of passion for social justice, fairness and equality as he showed me over two decades ago. It was incredibly gratifying to be able to tell him about the impact he had on me.
Q: You have previously served with the Friend of the Educational Opportunity Program Board. What inspired you to get involved?
Fukui-Sketchley: What an honor it was to serve on the board of FEOP! The inspiration to get involved stemmed from the lifelong work of my Mom. While my Mom is super proud of me (as all Mom’s are!), she admitted to me she is a little bit sad that this kind of work is still needed in this day and age. She never thought in a million years that I would be doing the same work as she did…that the need for OMA&D would still exist, that there would still be inequality in the world and that we would still be fighting for social justice and social change. A ton of progress has been made since my Mom did this work and now it’s MY lifelong mission to do what I can to “leave it better than I found it” for my seven-year old son and the generations to come.
Q: How long did you serve on the FEOP Board?
Fukui-Sketchley: Over 12 years.
Q: What was the most fulfilling aspect of being a member of FEOP?
Fukui-Sketchley: The students, by far, were the most fulfilling aspect of being a part of FEOP. We saw the real impact that scholarships and supportive programs have on a student’s life. To watch the students become actual rocket scientists and brain surgeons makes me so proud that I was able to be a part of this very special Board that does such incredible work.
Q: Celebration 2014 is coming up on May 22. How would you describe the significance of this event to those who aren’t familiar with it?
Fukui-Sketchley: Celebration is a very special event. It is a time that we get to celebrate the accomplishments of very deserving students. We get to hear their personal stories of struggle and strife which reminds us in the audience of our responsibility to support those who need financial assistance to pursue their dreams and passions. These are the next Presidents of the United States, the next leaders in our communities, the curers of cancer and the people who will be contributing and giving back to our communities. It is appropriately named, “Celebration”…it really is the “Celebration” of our bright future.
Q: Are you involved in any other volunteer work, UW or otherwise?
Fukui-Sketchley: I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to engage with non-profit organizations as part of my work at Nordstrom. I sit on national boards and support a variety of organizations like The Center for Asian Pacific American Women and The US Business Leadership Network. As far as other volunteer work for UW, I joined the Board of Trustees of the UW Alumni Association (UWAA) in 2006 and served as President of the Board from 2010-2011. It was truly a humbling experience to be chosen to lead an organization that represents over 300,000 living alumni. During my time on the Board we developed and launched UW Impact which is a legislative advocacy program of the independent UWAA. While I rolled off the Board in 2012, I continue to serve on the Legislative Advocacy Committee which supports and provides guidance for UW Impact.
Q: What inspires you to give back?
Fukui-Sketchley: I have been fortunate to have had good parents who have always instilled in me and my sister the importance of supporting our community. All of us donate our time and resources to different parts of the UW. When one has the opportunity to be exposed to the vast needs of our friends and neighbors it is not an option to idly stand by and do nothing. I am incredibly inspired by so many leaders in our community who give everything they have to improve the lives of others and I will continue to do what I can to do the same.
Q: What advice might you have to other alumni who are interested in giving back to OMA&D?
Fukui-Sketchley: The financial support of students is very much needed…more so today than ever before. When I was at UW the State of Washington was covering 80% of the cost of my education. Today the State is covering approximately 20% which means that tuition is exponentially higher than what my parents paid for my education at UW. The cost of educating a student has not changed but the distribution of who pays for the bulk of the tuition has and unfortunately the burden has fallen on the students to cover what the State has taken away. While everyone has felt the ramifications of the increase in tuition, underrepresented, economically and educationally disadvantaged students are disproportionately affected by the increase. For those of you who have the capacity to donate funds, please consider a contribution. None of us achieves anything on our own. There are always parents, mentors, friends and relatives who supported us along the way. Please consider paying tribute to them by donating to OMA&D so that someone else can achieve great things. Approximately 70% of UW graduates stay in our state after graduation so we will ALL benefit from their achievements. Thank you.