Soga Japan Center receives Champs award

contact: Linda Hanes
| WMU News
Photo of Michiko Yoshimoto.


KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University’s Soga Japan Center is one of eight recipients of 2015 Champs awards from Communities in Schools of Kalamazoo.

The award recognizes CIS' partners as well as individual volunteers, teachers and other Kalamazoo Public Schools staff members who help the district create successful collaborations.

A nationwide network of professionals working in public schools, CIS has evolved into the country’s leading drop-out prevention organization. The national organization and its Kalamazoo and other local affiliates surround students with a community of supportive resources, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.

Awards ceremony

CIS of Kalamazoo presented this year’s Champs awards during a May 19 ceremony. Among those from the University attending were Michiko Yoshimoto, the Soga Japan Center’s outreach coordinator, and Dr. Stephen Covell, chair of WMU’s Department of Comparative Religion and founding director of the center.

At the same ceremony, the local CIS group presented its annual Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award to the late James A. Harrington, a longtime member of its board of directors and a past president of both KPS and the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency.

Named for former WMU President Diether H. Haenicke, the award is given annually by the CIS of Kalamazoo Board of Directors to honor an individual or an organization that embodies the spirit Haenicke demonstrated in the years he served on the organization’s board.

WMU’s Champs award

The Soga Japan Center promotes Japan and Japanese culture to the wider community. It received a Champs award in recognition of the efforts of Yoshimoto, who has been volunteering in the KPS district since 2013 to help students broaden their understanding of Japanese language and culture.

She visited district classrooms more than 30 times over the past academic year to give presentations on origami, Japanese calligraphy, using chopsticks, martial arts, mask making, song and dance, as well as to give workshops on basic Japanese greetings and letters.

"Yoshimoto and her team of a dozen WMU student volunteers have a knack for tapping into students’ natural curiosity about the world. Since 2013, the center has worked closely with CIS volunteer services to enrich students’ understanding of Japanese culture throughout a number of schools," CIS of Kalamazoo said in announcing the award.

"One of the main ingredients to this successful partnership is [Yoshimoto] herself. She has a long history of volunteer work. And now, through CIS, she shares her passion for and appreciation of culture with our children."

About Yoshimoto

Michiko [pronounced Me-CHEE-ko] came to WMU in August 2009 as part of a Japan Outreach Initiative program to promote awareness and understanding of Japan in Michigan.

The Soga Japan Center hired her while she was in graduate school to serve as the center’s outreach coordinator—a position that transitioned to full-time in 2014. She completed her master’s degree in socio-cultural studies of education in April 2014.

In her work for the Soga Japan Center, Yoshimoto is focused on developing and facilitating Japanese culture and language programs for local K-12 schools, libraries, museums, companies, sister-city committees, and other organizations within the state and region.

She also maintains the center’s network of relationships on and off campus, including serving as the focal point for communications between it and the Battle Creek Japanese Saturday School.

For more information, visit the Soga Japan Center website at or call (269) 387-5874.

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