Satomi Sugaya ’02 Excelling in Artificial Intelligence Field

by Heath Hignight

Hometown: Yachiyo, Ibaraki, Japan
Currently Residing in: Boulder, Colorado
Education: BA, Physics, Lewis & Clark College; MS, Physics, New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology; Ph.D., Physics, University of New Mexico
Profession/position: Postdoctoral Fellow at UNM, Department of Computer Science

You’re currently a postdoctoral fellow at UNM. What drew you into this line of research?
I’m actually a postdoc in computer science. Specifically, my lab works on machine learning and artificial intelligence in robotics and biology applications. There are two aspects to the path that took me to this current position. One was simply out of necessity. This was simply the best option I had given the constraint of my visa and to stay in New Mexico (my partner was then finishing his Ph.D.). The other was my curiosity to learn about machine learning, the opportunity this position provided perfectly, and it really came from a random chance opportunity.

What are some of your other interests?
To be honest, I have been stuck in the very typical (and terrible) academic hamster wheel, and embarrassingly, my life is finally affording some time to decompress from the Ph.D. burnout mayhem. I love going for runs, walks, hikes, and being outside and I do these activities as much as my time affords. In the preacademic-career-pursuit era of my life, my passion was skiing. I am most excited to get back on the mountain after a long hiatus. One constant pleasure that sustained me though, really starting at CRMS, is the constant company of friends and colleagues from all over the world. Since 2000, which is crazy to think about, I have been so lucky to have embedded myself in environments that constantly expanded my social and cultural consciousness through connecting, sharing, and having great dialogues with people from many different cultures.

You visited CRMS this summer—what surprised you the most about returning to campus?
That so much has not changed. I mean this in a positive way. The brief drive through the campus allowed me to really connect myself back to memories and past sense of self when I had just arrived in this country. From the merit of the perspective the time provides, the visit made me grasp how valuable my experience at CRMS had been for me in forming my path to this current point. It surprised me how much connection I still feel to this special region of the world, a home.

A favorite memory of CRMS faculty?
Of course the best memories are on the mountains during the winter. But the most potent memory I have is from the first wilderness trip. Kayo and Tiaan lead the trip with Tabla Vigil as the assistant. At that time, I understood very little English and spoke even less. While it is a crazy idea to go into the wilderness for 10 days with the minimal relevant language skills considering communicating with your groupmate, in a foreign country, I had the best time. The views from all the points of the trip were just breathtaking, we laughed so much during the trip, and I just enjoyed it so much every step of the way.

My memory of CRMS faculty is imprinted more as an impression, that is positive and strong, rather than specific memories in my mind. Having just come from a country where people’s expression and personalities are rather repressed (so dystopian, but true!, lol), I was super pleasantly surprised to see adults healthily expressing their emotions and living their lives with passion. In this fashion, they appeared eccentric and crazy in a good way. They served as wonderful examples that life can be lived happily.

Another memory of pleasant surprise at CRMS for me was being on the mountain as a punishment. I got suspended for a week, I deserved it, but then I ended up skiing a lot that week. This experience was uniquely perplexing to me as ‘punishment’ for my action came in a form I never would have imagined.

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