Helping generations of students

Okomoto-Lane+describes+the+significance+behind+the+%22Windsock+Visitation%22+print+hanging+in+her+office.%0A%0ASaya+Meza+%7C+The+Falcon

Okomoto-Lane describes the significance behind the “Windsock Visitation” print hanging in her office. Saya Meza | The Falcon

Julia Battishill

For many, the path to a lifelong career can feel uncertain and undefined. For Susan Okamoto Lane, dean of multi-ethnic and wellness programs at Seattle Pacific University, the direction was a bit more distinct.

It was 2008, she was working in an internship program in the SPU School of Business, and the new multi-ethnic programs were looking for a dean. She was not positive that she wanted to apply, despite friends urging her. Then, suddenly, she was very sure of what she should do.

“I had a direct call from God that said, you know, ‘Susan if you don’t throw your hat in the ring, if you don’t reach out and apply for this position, your world is going to shrink’ and I thought, ‘well, that’s a pretty big God message,’ so I applied.”

Sitting in her well-decorated office, in the multi-ethnic corner of the second-floor SUB offices, she paused to look around and smile, as though to indicate how that application process turned out.

After 36 years dedicated to SPU, Lane is planning to retire at the end of this academic year. She expressed nothing but joy and fondness for her memories here, and her time spent helping generations of students.

“There are current students who are the children of SPU students who I’ve worked with before,” she said with a laugh.

In that time, Lane has been able to serve hundreds of students, many of which have been first-generation college students. Having had a similar experience, she empathizes with the feeling of being in a completely new environment.

“Working with students who are often times a first generation college students, and for me that’s my experience and [I know] that going to college is a precious opportunity,” said Lane. “For a lot of students, … going to SPU can feel like being in another country, even if they grew up here.”

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Lane admires the students enjoying the sunny day in Tiffany Loop. Saya Meza | The Falcon

Lane says that her work lines up perfectly with her aspirations and focuses in life, and she loves what she does.

“My life mission statement is ‘Helping people take the next step,’ and for college students that’s what it’s all about,” she said.

She found her love for working with college students in a bit of a roundabout way. After getting a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington in speech pathology, a master’s of education degree from Lewis and Clark College, and a graduate diploma in Christian studies from Regent College, she then came back to Seattle to look for a teaching job.

Instead, she found an opportunity to work with deaf adults in a job placement program. There, she discovered a passion for working with people in a more one-on-one context.

At the same time, she was volunteering with Indo-Chinese refugees, primarily from Laos after the Vietnam War, and she became so dedicated to that work that she started to look for a part-time position in order to have more time for it.

In that search, she found an internship opportunity at SPU that allowed for her volunteering schedule. She enjoyed the work she was doing here at the business school, but when our demographic started to shift and we needed a dean of multi-ethnic programs, she was a perfect fit.

Her love for helping people make progress, and one-on-one help, made her prepared and excited for the job. In the end, she got the position, and has now proudly held it for over a decade.

“Being able to help students navigate college and find their footing, and step into leadership, and figure out their major; that has been like the best ever,” Lane said.

Since that first year as dean back in 2008, she has seen the university undergo a drastic change in demographic from her position in the Multi-Ethnic offices. At one time, the population of students of color was so small, she saw all of them come through her door.

Now, many such students feel more comfortable and supported.

“I think [in 2008] that our department was sort of this life raft. The undergraduate ethnic minority population was maybe 10 percent. It was hard,” Okamoto Lane remembered.

“And so, where we are now, seeing the diversity on campus, I’ll see students [of color] walking around and think ‘I’ve never seen that student before!’”

The close relationships she built with those students who have come through her office have carried on past their time at SPU.

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Lane describes the significance behind the “Windsock Visitation” print hanging in her office. Saya Meza | The Falcon

She has enjoyed watching her beloved students thrive after college as well.

“As I stay in touch with students that maybe didn’t finish at SPU, … seeing this long arc of their life that they’re doing great things and they’re contributing to the world, and they’re having fun and exploring,” she expressed.

While she looks forward to “sleeping in and not commuting” in retirement, as well as traveling to the southern U.S. with her church to study American racial history and volunteering as a chef at an art retreat, she will miss her work here.

Specifically, she looks back most fondly on her meaningful daily conversations with students.

“I think of things that are happening every day. Just conversations with students that are crazy fun,” said Lane. “Those are stories and experiences that are my favorite every single day.”