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Saturday, February 4, 2023

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Audrey Hokoda (top row, second from left) and students Audrey Hokoda (top row, second from left) and students

Education with a Community Connection

Audrey Hokoda, this year's Senate Excellence in Teaching Award winner, sends her students into the community for an up-close look at the families they will serve.
By Michael Klitzing

If you’re taking a service-learning course with Audrey Hokoda, professor in child and family development at San Diego State University’s College of Education, wear comfortable shoes. You might spend the day visiting an underserved school or a domestic violence shelter.

Another thing you’ll need is a healthy dose of humility.
To Hokoda, honored with the 2018-19 Senate Excellence in Teaching Award, “the key is building in compassion and empathy for the people you're working with.”

“My students have had five years of a lot of science and a lot of information, but they don't know those families. And they don't necessarily know the communities they're working with or the culture of the schools,” Hokoda said.

“So yes, you're brilliant in lots of different ways. But be humble when you're working with people.”

In a 25-year SDSU career focused on youth violence prevention, Hokoda has equipped generations of students with the theory, practical experience and—yes—humility needed to positively impact the lives of thousands of children and families.

“I am thrilled to congratulate Audrey on this wonderful achievement,” said Y. Barry Chung, dean of the College of Education. “I can’t think of a more deserving recipient. In 25 years at SDSU, she has made an important impact on both knowledge in her field and countless students in our college.”

"Great educators nurture a depth of understanding that enables students to see the world differently and inspires them to see themselves differently," said Joseph Johnson, Jr., SDSU interim provost and senior vice president. "This is the gift Dr. Hokoda has given to her students, to SDSU, and to our community."
Teaching through partnerships

Hokoda, who will become a Senate Distinguished Professor when her award is conferred April 24, said strong community partnerships have been the backbone of her work:

•    Her students support policy work as interns at the County of San Diego’s Office of Violence Prevention.

•    They shadow therapists and work with children through the Center for Community Solutions, a San Diego nonprofit focused on ending relationship and sexual violence.

•    They provide training to parents at Cherokee Point Elementary School in San Diego’s City Heights community, teaching how how to deal with behavioral and emotional trauma problems in their children.

“There's only one of me, but there's dozens of students each semester who go out and do something,” Hokoda said. “What I like is that I get to support all the different people and programs I've been connected with over the past 25 years.”

Juliana Todesco Saenz (‘12) got her first ever internship and research opportunity working with a peer abuse prevention program Hokoda implemented in Sweetwater Union School District middle schools.

“As a freshman I felt empowered because each student helped develop, implement and evaluate the program,” said Saenz, now career opportunities manager with SDSU Career Services. “Dr. Hokoda's grace as a professional and enthusiasm for her work is what draws students in—and her trust in each of us inspires our own development.”

Finding her passion

A native of Los Angeles, Hokoda earned a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology at University of California, Los Angeles and received her master’s and doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Drawn back by the weather, proximity to family and the diversity and the culture of Southern California, she and her husband, Chris, set down roots in San Diego 30 years ago.

SDSU represented a chance to make a broad impact through her work.

"I love this university especially because of its community focus,” Hokoda said. “Its mission is about building collaborations within the community to help with international problems like violence prevention.”

She has mentored students of color who otherwise might have struggled to find faculty who could relate to their perspectives and experiences. Many of those students grew up in the Somalian, Middle Eastern or Mexican immigrant communities that benefit from Hokoda’s service-learning cohorts—and they often thrive in their internships.

“I love that,” Hokoda said. “These students find that they have a knowledge base beyond their education—they bring it from their community and their families and they're able to use that to reach families that might not get services that other families get. All of that is my passion."

The Senate Excellence in Teaching Award will be presented at a reception at 2 p.m. April 24 in Templo Mayor in the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union. Hokoda's presentation is entitled, "Embracing SDSU's commitment to serving the community: Addressing trauma with heartsand minds."