Joining the workforce as a recent college graduate is undoubtedly one of the most daunting young adult experiences. The expectation, following college graduation, is to work at a job that will help in advancing your career–especially if you do not have plans on attending graduate school.
This already difficult task was accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as many companies and recruiters reduced hiring efforts due to financial losses and the risk of infection. The ever-changing job market caused by the pandemic highlighted the importance of a well-developed network and creating meaningful connections, in order to allow for more opportunities.
The Southern California Intercollegiate Nikkei Council (INC) hosts an annual event, Nikkei Professionals, which provides members of each affiliated university with an opportunity to expand their professional networks within the community. INC is the Japanese American collegiate coalition of 12 colleges and universities. Emiko Kranz, former INC President during the 2015-2016 academic year, curated Nikkei Professionals, seeing the need for college students to speak with, and learn from, professionals of various backgrounds regarding tips and necessary skills to enter the workforce post-graduation.
This past February, we were fortunate to have the Japanese American National Museum host Nikkei Professionals. This was INC’s first event in-person since the 2020 Nikkei Professionals, so as President, I was simultaneously excited and nervous. I wanted everything to go right so badly, that I spent the week leading up to the event glued to my desk planning and neglecting personal responsibilities. While I don’t recommend this to anyone else, I think the sacrifices were worth it, as the event turned out to be a huge success!
Here’s an overview of this year’s Nikkei Professionals:
The event began with the keynote speaker panelists who this year were Kiyomi Takemoto, 2021 Nisei Week Miss Tomodachi, and actor Derek Mio (watch his show The Terror Season 2 on Hulu!) The keynote speakers spoke on one of the biggest themes of Nikkei Professionals: How identity and community can intersect with the workplace.
Keynote speakers Kiyomi and Derek spoke on the topic eloquently. Kiyomi talked about her experience as an Asian American woman in the engineering field, and how she was constantly overlooked because of her identity. However, she found strength in her community network through Nisei Week, the Society of Women Engineers, and the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center. For Kiyomi, her involvement with her community network provided her with the support to pursue both her career and passions.
Similarly, Derek mentioned how as an actor he struggled to book roles despite his background at USC film school. After years of hard work, he booked a breakthrough starring role in AMC’s horror-thriller: The Terror Season 2 where he played a Nisei man navigating the struggles of Japanese American internment during World War II. Here, Derek’s involvement in the JA community found him a role for which he was uniquely qualified, as his family was interned during the war. In both cases, we saw how a commitment to one’s community can create opportunities and give the support needed to pursue their endeavors.
Following the insightful speeches from the keynote panelists was a rotation of professional development workshops. The 30-minute rotations included networking with the invited professionals, a tour of JANM, lunch, and a resume workshop hosted by Yo! Magazine’s very own Craig Ishii.
During the networking rotation, college students were free to speak to the professionals that were stationed throughout the museum. Each of the 12 INC schools invites at least two professionals to the event; this ensures that there is a diverse pool of professionals and allows for our community to help expand our networks. The invited professionals are typically alumni of INC, parents of current students, current/former employers of the students, and representatives of the various Japanese American nonprofit organizations in the greater Los Angeles area. This year, we were fortunate to have another year of a wide variety of professions represented, ranging from healthcare providers, CPAs, activists, business owners, and engineers.
It was during this rotation that I hoped the undergraduates would develop connections, seek guidance in pursuing a similar career path, find possible job opportunities, or simply practice having conversations with adults with whom they are not familiar.
As alluded to earlier, I was really nervous about this being the first in-person event in two years. We were extremely fortunate to be hosting this event at JANM, but the thought of hosting an event at such a historic site brought along pressure. I kept asking myself: “What if I mess up?” or “Am I wasting everyone else’s time?” Despite my worries and doubts, my team of INC representatives, the professionals, and the JANM rental liaison Coleen Uchida-Tamny provided all the ideas and resources we needed to successfully carry out this event.
Approximately two months following the 2022 Nikkei Professionals, as I am reflecting and writing this article, I still cannot thank all the above-mentioned individuals enough for making my life easy and collaborating with INC to hold such a fruitful event. I especially want to thank Kiyomi and Derek for bravely sharing their successes along with their deepest vulnerabilities, and providing genuine details about the ups and downs of post-graduate life. I hope one day that some of the undergraduates who attended the event can someday return and participate as professionals.