03/15/2012 07:00:00

Katz Named Caltech's Inaugural Kay Sugahara Professor

Jonathan N. Katz, chair of the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, has been named the Kay Sugahara Professor of Social Sciences and Statistics. The Sugahara family endowed the new professorial chair with a $2 million gift in honor of the late Kay Sugahara, a civic leader and entrepreneur who built the worldwide shipping and oil services business, Fairfield-Maxwell Ltd. The gift is supplemented by an additional $1 million provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Matching Program.

"We felt that establishing this endowed chair was a fitting tribute to my late father," says Kaytaro Sugahara, the eldest of Kay and Yone Sugahara's three sons, and a Caltech alumnus (BS '61). "He valued education, built his own business empire, and was active in international relations. He would have been proud to have his name associated with the work being done in the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences at Caltech." 

Kay Sugahara, born to Japanese immigrants in Seattle in 1909, was largely a self-made man. Orphaned at an early age, he went on to graduate from UCLA in 1932 and used his business skills and knowledge of international trade to become a millionaire by the age of 30. He lost most of that when he, his wife, and children were interned in a camp in Granada, Colorado, during World War II. Yet, he remained loyal to his country—volunteering to work with the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency, in their wartime efforts.

Following the war, he built his shipping business, becoming chairman of the board of the conglomerate Fairfield-Maxwell, which owns and manages oil and chemical tankers, as well as refrigerated and bulk cargo vessels. The company, through its Fairfield Nodal subsidiary, also designs, manufactures, and operates equipment to gather seismic data in both the marine and land environments. Sugahara was also active in international relations, and served as chairman of the US-Asia Institute in Washington, D.C.

As arranged by the Sugahara family, the Kay Sugahara Professorship is designated for an eminent scholar within the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences who is engaged in education and research in the areas of economics, entrepreneurship, political science, or Asian studies. Katz, the inaugural chair holder, works at the intersection of political science, economics, and statistics. His current research focuses on developing statistical methods and applying those methods to questions about elections and public policy.

"I'm very honored to be recognized with this new title," Katz says. "Many professors never get the chance to meet the donors who support their chairs. But I know and think very highly of the Sugahara family, so this is particularly meaningful for me."

Kay Sugahara once wrote: "There is a tendency today to play things safe, to let caution be our guiding star. That way lies disaster. To succeed, we must blaze new trails, explore new areas, forge new concepts." The Sugaharas believe he would be particularly pleased by the appointment of Dr. Katz as the first to hold this chair.

Written by Kimm Fesenmaier