Ally Tokioka

Third-year UCI sociology major Ally Tokioka always enjoyed math and science, but she found the subjects restrictive. They always seemed to be searching for a definitive answer. But then she found sociology.

“I'm more drawn to understanding relationships and the complexity that shapes communities. Sociology, on the other hand, felt liberating. It allowed me to explore patterns in human behaviors and society. This perspective really resonated with me,” she says.

Tokioka has recently been accepted into the sociology honors program and is following her interest in sociology even further by conducting independent research and writing an honors thesis over the course of the year. She’s investigating whether the serious health disparities faced by Native Hawaiians have social causes. Her research covers historical trauma, a theory that proposes that stress and trauma not only impact those who directly experience it, but future generations as well. She intends to analyze historical trauma as it applies to the colonization and annexation of Native Hawaiians and the impact this has had on their physical and mental health.

“I hope to be able to reach a conclusion that might better explain and expand on existing literature. I have an opportunity, through further research, to make discoveries or come to new conclusions that could potentially contribute to closing the gap,” she says.Tokioka was part of the BAM (By Any Means) X FCP (Free Clinic Project) hygiene kit distribution this past quarter at the HUB OC.

Social roots

Tokioka became interested in pursuing independent research last year, after taking Sociology 110, a research methods course required of all sociology majors. As part of the course, students are asked to prepare a research proposal. When Tokioka asked one of the teaching assistants (TA) for feedback, the TA was so impressed with her proposal that she suggested Tokioka apply for the honors program.

“Being in the honors program and digging deeper into something I'm passionate about has been rewarding,” Tokioka says.

Her project is deeply personal. She herself is not Native Hawaiian, but she grew up on the Hawaiian island of Oahu and has family and close friends who are. She speaks about the warmness of Hawaiian culture and how everyone in the community feels like family. When everyone feels like family, you want to make sure you’re taking care of them like they’re your own, she says.

Assistant professor of teaching Emily Carian has had the pleasure of getting to know Tokioka through her position as the director of the sociology honors program and has been impressed with her work.

“Ally is a talented and hardworking student. She thinks deeply about the details of her research. She has designed an intellectually rigorous and interesting project, and I am excited to see what she finds,” Carian says.

For her part, Tokioka enjoys being in a cohort of students who are as passionate about their projects as she is. She’s also thankful to be guided by dedicated faculty like Carian and her honors advisor Mirian Martinez-Aranda, an assistant professor in sociology.

“Even though UCI is such a big school and there’s something like 30,000 students, it's apparent that the professors care about students as individuals,” Tokioka says. “There’s such a big support network.” Tokioka with her parents.

From campus to community

Now that Tokioka has been at UCI for a few years, she’s not only integrated into the campus, but the surrounding community as well. One way she has achieved this is through her involvement with By Any Means (BAM), a UCI student organization dedicated to alleviating homelessness. She currently serves as BAM’s advocacy chair, where she gives presentations at general meetings on issues that affect homelessness.

“I advocate to emphasize the difficulties of getting out of the cycle of homelessness so that others understand that it isn't always a choice,” she says.

It’s important to Tokioka to fight the stigma attached to homelessness. In addition to advocacy, she participates in as many service events that her schedule allows. (She also works part-time at a clothing store near campus.) BAM’s service events include distributing hygiene kits, volunteering in soup kitchens, packing and organizing canned goods, and partnering with other non-profit organizations. Some of Tokioka’s best memories as an Anteater have come from the work she’s performed with BAM.

“You see how appreciative people are and how much it impacts them. It's been fulfilling to see how the work that you begin at school also has an effect in the community,” she says.

Guiding forces

While Tokioka is out in the community trying to make an impact on others, someone who has had a significant impact on her life is her sixth-grade teacher Robert Tam. She credits him with helping to instill a tenacity and work ethic that she carries with her today.

“He talked to us like we were real people. He didn’t sugar coat everything and provided us with honest feedback about our work. Being able to handle criticism has prepared me for UCI and for life. I’m able to handle feedback and apply it,” she says.

Another important person in Tokioka’s life is her father.

“He has a work ethic that is unlike anything I've ever seen. But he also prioritizes his family, which is something that I plan to do,” she says.

In addition to his work, Tokioka’s father serves on the boards of non-profit organizations around Hawaii.

“He has a real impact in other people's lives. That's my goal. I want to be able to contribute and do good in my community too,” she says. Tokioka with a group of close friends back in Hawaii.

A future with purpose

After she graduates from UCI, Tokioka plans to attend graduate school. She’s still trying to narrow her options, but for the long-term, she sees herself working with a non-profit organization in some capacity. While she’s weighing her choices, Tokioka is confident that UCI faculty will help guide her down the right path.

“The professors have always been so welcoming,” she says. “They want to hear about what you have to say whether it relates to class or life. They ask about what you’re interested in and they want to talk about your future.”

-Jill Kato for UCI School of Social Sciences
-pictured: Ally Tokioka, sociology undergrad. Tokioka was part of the BAM (By Any Means) X FCP (Free Clinic Project) hygiene kit distribution this past quarter at the HUB OC. Tokioka with her parents and a group of close friends back in Hawaii.

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