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Born To Teach: Masako Beecken teaches Japanese at CSU for 30 years

August 22nd, 2018

By Shannon Dale (M.A. ’14)

Like many elementary school children, Colorado State University professor, Masako Beecken, would play outside with the children in her neighborhood when she was growing up. Unlike many elementary school children, Beecken preferred playing ‘teacher’ over hopscotch.

“Since a small child, I seemed to enjoy teaching. When I played outside with my friends, I would make up a curriculum, taking the kids to fieldwork in the neighborhood, and I gave them grades. I was appreciated by their parents,” shares Beecken, who was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan.

As she grew, so did her love of teaching. She tutored struggling classmates and was active in her high school student council. Along with her husband, Tim, a U.S. citizen who spent most of his childhood in a rural area of Japan, Beecken eventually came to CSU to earn an M.A. in English with a specialization in Teaching English as a Second Language (TEFL).

Mako Beeken, instructor of Japanese at CSU

Mako Beeken, instructor of Japanese at CSU

Bringing the Japanese language to CSU

During her graduate work, Beecken was surprised to discover that CSU did not offer any Japanese courses. While still finishing her master’s degree, Beecken was hired as one of the first two Japanese instructors in the fall of 1988. She designed the curriculum, teaching all of the beginner through fourth-year language courses. In addition to the traditional language courses, she also designed Japanese culture, theatre, business, and film courses.

The success of the Japanese program, as many of her students and alumni can attest, is due to Beecken’s exceptional teaching. She received the CSU College of Liberal Arts Excellence in Teaching Award in 2000. In 2005, she received the “Creative Award” from the Colorado Congress of Foreign Language Teachers in recognition of her interdisciplinary project featuring a Kabuki style production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. After the success of her first production and student interest in learning through theatre, in 2008 she adapted and translated A Midsummer Night’s Dream into a 2-hour Japanese production that drew more than 1,000 audience members from campus and the northern Colorado community. In 2007, Beeken received the Excellence in Teaching, Leadership, and Contribution to the Community Award from the National Council of Japanese Language Teachers.

In the fall of 1988, when Beecken was teaching her first Japanese course, there was a student who had registered for the other section of introductory Japanese, but accidently came to her class instead. After enjoying her teaching style, he decided to remain in her section. He became passionate about Japanese and pushed Beecken to create a Japanese minor.

“Eventually, that student went on to interview in Japanese for the Foreign Service, earning a position as a diplomat. He helped Japan during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which devastated communities across the country. For his work on the environmental cleanup in the aftermath of the tsunami, he was awarded the Superior Honor Award by the Japanese government. I was very proud,” says Beecken.

Through the years, Beecken expanded on her Japanese courses, beginning with a short summer experiential trip. She initiated and helped establish the first exchange program in the department of Languages, Literatures and Culture in 1994. She took her students to Kagawa University, where one of the professors there arranged for the students to visit local schools. Since that short trip, Beecken has continued to collaborate with her Kagawa colleague, developing a more comprehensive education abroad program that immerses students in Japanese culture. She especially enjoys watching her students build friendships with Kagawa University students.

In 1998, Beecken launched an innovative Japanese language program at CSU that brings senior citizens from Japan to Fort Collins to provide additional tutoring to students in the Japanese program. The Japanese Visiting Volunteer Instructor Program enriches students’ studies in both language and culture. Since its inception, more than 100 visiting volunteer instructors from Japan have participated in the program.

In June 2018, Beecken held an alumni reception in Tokyo, Japan, where more than 80 alumni and friends attended to celebrate the study of Japanese at CSU and to reconnect. The Tokyo Reunion was held to celebrate the 30th year of the CSU Japanese program. The event hosted Japanese alumni who graduated in the 1980s, as well as former Japanese program alumni who currently work in Japan.

Leaving a legacy

“I was fortunate enough to have so many excellent students who said that they were inspired by taking Japanese classes. Many of those students have gone on to become important contributors in the world. I feel like I’ve done my job as an educator,” shares Beecken.

After 30 years at CSU, Beecken will be retiring in December 2018. Beecken is proud of the legacy she has created through her Japanese courses, and for the establishment of the College of Liberal Arts’ International Studies major, an idea she dreamed up 20 years ago. She is grateful to the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, and the College of Liberal Arts for their support over the years that allowed her, as an adjunct faculty member, to materialize her often bold ideas.

In an effort to continue to inspire a passion for Japanese language and culture in future generations of CSU students, Beecken and her husband have established the T & M Beecken, Alumni and Friends Scholarship Endowment.

While teaching, Beecken saw some of her students struggle to remain in school for financial reasons. Many students have to work full-time while working in the classroom to graduate. Japanese is considered to be one of the most challenging foreign languages for English speakers, requiring time, strong commitment, and perseverance to learn.

“I admire those who work so hard to learn Japanese while facing financial stress. Through the T & M Beecken, Alumni and Friends Scholarship Endowment, I wanted to be of help, even in a small way, to motivate those students to continue their Japanese study,” explains Beecken.

To celebrate the legacy of Masako Beecken, make a gift to the T & M Beecken, Alumni and Friends Scholarship Endowment online at https://advancing.colostate.edu/BEECKENSCHOLARSHIP.