Celebration marks end of scholarship program honoring UCLA alumnus, paramedic
Family and friends of UCLA alumnus Mitch Sekine, as well as past and present members of the UCLA Paramedic Education Program community, pose in front of a newly purchased ambulance simulator at the celebration Saturday. The event marked the conclusion of the Mitch Sekine Memorial Scholarship Fund, which first began in 2010 to support students in the program. (Jason Zhu/Daily Bruin staff)
This post was updated Oct. 21 at 3:50 p.m.
More than a decade ago, Emiko Miyara and her family walked into the office of the UCLA Paramedic Education Program looking to start a scholarship in memory of Miyara’s late son.
After 11 years and 20 recipients, the scholarship program is coming to an end.
Dozens of friends and family attended an event at the Paramedic Education Program building Saturday to celebrate the conclusion of the Mitch Sekine Memorial Scholarship Fund, established in 2010 to honor Michihito “Mitch” Sekine, an alumnus of the Paramedic Education Program.
Sekine graduated from the program in 2005 and worked as a paramedic in Las Vegas before he died in 2007.
According to the UCLA Center for Prehospital Care’s website, the scholarship was awarded to candidates enrolled in UCLA paramedic training courses who demonstrate financial need and exemplify Sekine’s qualities.
Sekine’s family, friends and current and former staff of the Paramedic Education Program shared their memories of Sekine and spoke about the impact of his scholarship.
Carmina Lu, the center administrator at the Center for Prehospital Care, said it was the first-ever scholarship offered under the program since its inception in 1970 and has laid the groundwork for multiple other scholarships.
Fuyumi Hashimoto, Sekine’s cousin and one of the scholarship committee members, said Sekine’s family received more insight into his life as a paramedic after the funeral.
“It was just a huge blessing to have to still get to know him after he’s not here with us anymore,” Hashimoto said.
After seeing hundreds of paramedics at his funeral, Miyara said she realized how many friends her son made during his career and wanted to keep Sekine’s legacy alive by supporting other future paramedics.
“That was a way for (Miyara) to kind of funnel that grief and funnel all of that anxiety and everything that happened after the aftermath of his passing – to do something good for the people, the school that he loved and the people that he loved,” Hashimoto said.
Rosa Isela Calva-Songco, a former client services manager for the Center for Prehospital Care and a coordinator and founding member of the scholarship program, said Miyara and her family held three fundraisers over the years where they made and sold Japanese curry. They would make 300 to 500 meals at a time to go toward funding the scholarship, she added.
It is not as easy to coordinate all of the committee’s activities after some members of the scholarship committee have moved away and some are now retired, which is why they chose to bring the program to a close, Calva-Songco said.
At the celebration, Sekine’s family and friends reflected on his strong character and the experiences they shared with him.
Jeff Shultz, a paramedic supervisor for American Medical Response in Ventura County, said he and Sekine first met while they were both working as EMTs for Los Angeles County. They later reconnected at the Paramedic Training Program and would carpool to classes together, often testing each other on drills to pass time on their hourlong commute.
Sekine was a calm, kind and welcoming person who was never intimidating, he added.
“He just exemplified everything that we strive to be in this industry,” Shultz said at the ceremony.
Calva-Songco said she recalls asking Sekine to help her with students from Japan interested in pursuing careers in emergency medical services. He had claimed his Japanese was not good enough, yet later went on to speak confidently and engage everyone in the room.
“We meet a lot of students,” she said. “He is one of those students that made an impression on me for that.”
Calva-Songco said the committee sought scholarship applicants who shared Sekine’s character because compassion is equally important to clinical excellence when it comes to being a paramedic.
“When we look at these recipients, we are so proud of them because we know who they are and what they are,” she said. “And now they’re out there doing great things.”
LA County firefighter paramedic Katie Martin, one of the 2012 scholarship recipients, said at the celebration she was thankful to Sekine’s family for their strength and generosity. Their faith in her helped her go on to care for thousands of patients in the years after she graduated, she added.
Sekine’s story was a source of motivation throughout her time at the program, Martin said, reminding her that people believed in her.
Beyond supporting Martin’s and the other scholarship recipients’ education, Calva-Songco added that the scholarship fund also helped the paramedic program purchase cabinets, coffee makers and a table in one of the conference rooms. They were also able to purchase an ambulance simulator to help students gain hands-on experience, she added.
Dr. Heather Davis, the former program director at the Paramedic Education Program, said these improvements were important to have for students who spend long hours at the building for their training.
“That feeling of welcome and sense of belonging allows people to do their best work, … which is really part of Mitch’s legacy,” Davis said.
Even though the program is coming to an end, the family and friendship that formed around the scholarship will remain, Calva-Songco said.
“This is a closing of a chapter, if you will, but only this part of the chapter,” she said.