As the third week of classes came to a close at Hancock College, Amiko Matsuo was settling into her role as the new ceramics instructor.

Matsui replaces longtime instructor Bob Nichols, who retired last spring after 28 years.

"I really feel honored to be inheriting what Bob Nichols and others before me have built," Matsuo said. Arriving at Hancock after a 10-year career at California State University, Channel Islands, she hopes to take an interdisciplinary approach with her class and bridge the history and tradition of ceramics with new technology.

For Matsuo, the decision to pursue ceramics came during her third year at UCLA. She said she "instantly fell in love with clay" after taking a class with professor Adrian Saxe, and later continued her studies at Kansas State University, pursuing her master's while studying with Yoshi Ikeda. Matsuo said she "already knew [she] wanted to be a ceramics teacher," and returned to California after completing her degree to teach at Cal State Channel Islands.

Once at Channel Islands, Matsuo synthesized her personal beliefs and education to teach and support her students. She credits Saxe's use of critique as not just a foundational element of her education but, also, a tool to empower students by having them ask questions about their perspective and the world around them.

"By introducing ceramics and art as critique, I empower students with a tool to want to make their community a better place," she said, adding that for students, art and critique can become a catalyst for social change. "I really wanted students to question the way they were seeing things."

Most importantly, Matsuo said her transmigratory background helps her relate to and support first-generation students.

"I'm not a first-generation college student but I am transmigratory, so I have that background -- I can relate to students on that level very much," she said. "My work is about feeling [like] I don't have a home and don't quite know how to fit in, so I really wanted my students who feel that way to have a voice."

Matsuo said she accepted the position at Hancock due to an affinity for the college's overall mission and personal approach to education and ceramics. She touted Nichols' emphasis on community as one of the major draws, and hopes to expand on that during her tenure.

"I want to connect that personal story to the history of ceramics and art in general," she said. "I think it's important and central to my teaching and perspectives. Jenni Sorkin writes about the inherent power of clay to form community, [largely] through a therapeutic aspect of working with the material and the amount of time you spend in here."

She said that at Channel Islands, students in her classes engaged with the greater community through service learning projects or outreach. She hopes to collaborate with other departments and community organizations to help facilitate a similar arrangement at Hancock.

"At my former university we [worked] with a local art museum to design a lesson plan they can use within local schools," Matsuo said. "I'm already starting to find the connections in things we can do here. I had orientation [three] weeks ago and met all sorts of wonderful instructors who do great things in the community."

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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Mathew Burciaga is a Santa Maria Times reporter who covers education, agriculture and public safety. Prior to joining the Times, Mathew ran a 114-year-old community newspaper in Wyoming. He owns more than 40 pairs of crazy socks from across the globe.

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