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Ms. Ayako Utsumi (MPH ’95) has always had a passion for social justice, and her dedication to it has been the thread throughout her personal, academic and professional pursuits. As a graduate student, Utsumi interned with the California Hospital where she conducted a feasibility study on a diabetes management program and she was then offered a full time position upon graduation. She went on to work at several other hospitals in Los Angeles, including Queen of Angels-Hollywood Presbyterian and Orthopedic Hospital. But it was her sense of service to others that brought her to the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health to earn her MPH with a focus on business development for healthcare. While at the Fielding School, she took classes at the Business School which nurtured her entrepreneurial spirit (that came in handy later). She is grateful to her mentors at FSPH, Ruth Roemer and Paul Torrens, for their interest in developing her career and their shared passion for serving others. After earning her MPH, Utsumi took a position at California Hospital Medical Center, Cedars Sinai Hospital and then went to work as a consultant with Deloitte in their health care division. It was tough work, she said, with long hours, but it was also a great and rewarding experience from which she learned so much.
After several years working as a consultant with Deloitte, Utsumi once again felt an urge to make a change. In 2008, President Bush approved an additional $4 billion to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to stem the foreclosure crisis. She recalled an epiphany she had many years earlier that she would eventually work in low income housing. The timing seemed right for her to do just that; she had gained a broad range of experiences working as a consultant and in hospitals that she could apply to helping Americans get back into homes. Utsumi now works with non-profit developers who build low income housing.
Her role is to ensure that the housing they build is clean, safe, accessible, and affordable...all of these things that, she says, are the very foundation of public health.
Utsumi gives so much to communities in need through her work in affordable housing and she also manages to find the time to help people in several other ways. For the past ten years she has worked with members of her church and one of the world’s premiere microcredit banks to offer microcredit loans to women of SE Turkey. The bank gives tiny loans to help women who make traditional handicrafts, such as lace crochet and embroidery, to develop an international marketing plan and a distribution network to build a consistent buyer base. She serves on the board of Volunteers of America Los Angeles (VOALA), a social service agency focusing on Head Start programs for families, substance abuse recovery and US Veterans outreach. Recognizing the crisis in foster care here in Los Angeles, Utsumi mentors a 19 year old foster girl through a non-profit called KidSave. Most recently, Utsumi and a team helped to develop what was the first children’s reading room at a Syrian refugee camp in Northern Iraq. “Children are so resilient,” says Utsumi. “Despite experiencing all the horrors of war, children can still laugh, play and find joy in their circumstances. It’s a great life lesson for all of us.” Utsumi has even given back to her alma matter; she served for a time as the President of the Health Policy and Management Alumni Association of FSPH because she believes in giving back to the school that gave her so much.
The Fielding School is so proud to call her one of our own and hope that her story might inspire other FSPH alumni to find ways to give back as well.