Among the nearly 1,900 undergraduate students at Portland State University who will walk the stage at the June 12 commencement ceremony is tennis star Yuki Sugiyama, who left one of the most prestigious private universities in Japan to play for the PSU Vikings.
Sugiyama in 2009 was a sophomore at Waseda University in Tokyo, which has a partner relationship with PSU. Approximately 60 Waseda students come to Portland State every year. Sugiyama was a nationally ranked tennis player in Japan and wanted to play for PSU, but NCAA rules barred her from playing because she was a visiting student.
"NCAA rules prohibit international students from joining our teams unless they are fully admitted, degree-seeking students," said Gil Latz, PSU's vice provost for international affairs. "The Waseda Oregon program is more of a study abroad opportunity for Waseda students, and does not qualify."
Latz and PSU President Wim Wiewel were in Sapporo and Tokyo in the fall of 2009 on a tour to speak about sustainability and to meet with Japanese carmakers about electric vehicles. Sugiyama's mother contacted one of Latz' colleagues in Sapporo to explore how her daughter could satisfy NCAA rules and join the PSU tennis team.
Their solution was for her to complete the study abroad program and make her a fully-admitted student at PSU. The PSU athletic department then offered her an athletic scholarship, and the NCAA said she could play.
The rest is PSU tennis history: Sugiyama won 13 matches during the 2011 spring season, played the No. 1 position on the team, and became the first PSU player since 2003 to be named First Team All Big Sky.
Although she was admitted as a freshman at PSU only two years ago, she has enough academic credits from Waseda to allow her to graduate this spring with a degree in Arts and Letters. She will continue working toward another degree in International Liberal Studies when she returns to Japan later in June.
Latz said finding a creative way for her to play tennis here worked out well for all involved.
"We created an opportunity without breaking the rules, and everyone won: PSU, Waseda University, Yuki Sugiyama, the Waseda Oregon program, and US/Japan relations," Latz said.