There is no shortage of incredible women on the University of New Mexico campus. Still, one particular Lobo was just recognized for going above and beyond on and off campus.
Global Education Office (GEO) Programs Specialist Gail Masutani was named the Most Appreciated, Exceptional Woman in the Division for Equity and Inclusion’s (DEI) and Women’s Resource Center’s (WRC) recent Women’s History Month awards.
Masutani received a swell of nominations, both anonymous and from her colleagues.
“I was really shocked and honored. It was an awesome and pleasant surprise,” she said.
Masutani has been a star in GEO since 2015. She brought decades of compassion and understanding to Albuquerque, and has done nothing but show everyone these things once she arrived.
In between coordinating GEO Global Programs and events and managing the Passport Center, Masutani places a strong emphasis on interpersonal connections. Any moment she can, she builds relationships with international students.
“Working with international students is amazing! You learn about so many different cultures and countries right from your office. It’s like traveling the world by listening to stories about their home countries.” she said.
Masutani believes there is much to be learned when it comes to not just traveling, but simply engaging in conversation with someone from a different country.
“We have so much freedom here in the U.S. You just don't realize it until you talk to people from other countries and ask them what it's like in their country,” she said. “The ideal option is actually traveling to another country and experiencing it in person. At the Global Education Office, we also help students study abroad. Every study abroad trip is a life changing experience.”
Through GEO’s Global Certificate Programs, there is the opportunity to showcase UNM and spend weeks or months with students who aim to understand the U.S. just as much as UNM wants to understand the way they do things in the country they’re visiting from.
“It's fun and interesting to learn about different cultures. It’s also rewarding to know that the students we work with will take back new knowledge to share back home. It’s the same for us–we go there, we learn and we bring back new knowledge and a better understanding of another culture,” Masutani said.
If someone is fortunate enough to get the opportunity to take a trip outside the country, or even just New Mexico, Masutani says to take it.
“It broadens your thinking and it exposes you to other cultures. When you travel, you're basically promoting world peace,” she said. “You get to meet new people, make new friends, and have a better understanding of what it’s like there. If you understand what other people are like and you understand what they're going through, then the chances are that you’ll be friends rather than foes. The more you understand other people in other cultures, the less likely it is for you to not like them or to fight against them.”
It’s a comprehension she gained from a young age. Growing up in Hawai’i, where east meets west and a blending of cultures naturally occur, being respectful of various cultures, and not being too proud to learn more, came naturally.
“Speaking Japanese there is like speaking Spanish here. A lot of signs in Hawai’i are in Japanese, similar to how they have signs here in Spanish. You don't think about it until someone else goes there and comes back telling you of their impressions of Hawai’i. You then realize there are so many similarities between Hawai’i and New Mexico,” Masutani said.
In Hawai’i, she worked with a now retired airline for many years. This gave her the opportunity to travel around the world–from Japan to Germany.
“I was originally hired as a hula dancer promoting Hawai’i. I would travel around the world with the Hawaii Visitors Bureau promoting Hawai’i and Aloha Airlines. Everyone loves Hawai’i so it was a fun job and a great way to see the world,” she said.
She also does not waste a second when traveling, something she hopes anyone going outside their comfort zones would do as well.
“To actually interact with people and experience the sights and sounds of a different country, that's what travel is about,” Masutani said.
Working with international students at the Global Education Office, Masutani is honored to still be absorbing more knowledge, and making a difference. She was so busy in fact, she almost could not make it to the ceremony, as she was prepping for the upcoming International Festival.
“I volunteered to help with the food handling training that evening, and felt bad because I have to leave early,” she said.
Make no mistake, this is one humble award winner. There’s so much, she says, which could not be done without the other amazing women in GEO and beyond. In a dream world, she wishes every single woman at UNM was made a nominee.
“All the women at UNM are fabulous. They're always doing something to contribute to the University. They're all working hard. They're all helping students. They all contribute to the success of UNM. Next year, I hope every woman at UNM is nominated,” she said.
Also in the future for Masutani, is any opportunity to pack her bags again.
“When you travel, you grow. Your mind grows and you grow. You become a different person,” she said. “If I had the money, I would travel from country to country. Traveling is the best. There's no better way to learn about the world than by traveling to another country and experiencing another culture.”
Here are just a few of the many kind words Masutani received:
“Gail is an extremely hard worker, always upbeat and positive, and does everything she can to support students from countries around the world. She is a wonderful team member who is well respected by her colleagues and students alike. She sets a great example for what it is to be an amazing woman leader!” -Paul Edmunds
“Gail is one of the most uplifting women I have ever had the pleasure to work alongside. She is quick to express thanks for all things big and small. Gail shines genuine praise on her coworkers in a way that warms the workplace -- oftentimes, when she herself is the most deserving of a standout acknowledgement. When I work with Gail, I feel that all contributions to the workplace are seen in a way that is often overlooked by others. She is supportive, kind, inspiring, and makes UNM's campus a better place.” -Madelyn Lesnewich
“Gail Masutani is amazing. She goes well above and beyond her work at UNM to drive initiatives forward that benefit the university. She is tireless and completely self-less. It might be possible that I have not worked with a better colleague in my entire career. Gail exemplifies everything great that we hope to instill in our students. She is an utmost professional-- collegial, hardworking, smart, compassionate and creative. I can think of no better person to get an award. She deserves it and so much more.” -Pablo Torres
“Gail is always willing to help out anyone in need, is always volunteering her time that is already very limited if it will make someone else's job easier. She always brings joy and laughter to a room and is a wonderful person to be around. She is so kind and encouraging and really makes you feel special and believed in.” -Sara Gutierrez
"Her knowledge, experience, and work ethic have no bounds, and she never hesitates to lend a helping hand wherever it is needed. Our program participants routinely sing her praises in their evaluations, and she has been instrumental in GEO's long track record of successful international certificate programs." - Sue Wilder
“Gail is a true team player, and her commitment to the international outreach services we provide is unwavering. Whether it is an international delegation or a Passport Center customer, she always brings a high level of hands-on, quality customer service to everything she does. GEO is lucky to have such a solid and reliable ambassador!” Nicole Tami