Program boosts minorities’ careers

By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly

2013 Asian Leadership Discovery Class 1 (Photo courtesy of EDI)

The Executive Development Institute (EDI) of Bellevue is preparing for the next class of minority leaders in the Pacific Northwest region. Since 1994, EDI has proven its ability to develop culturally diverse leadership essential to organizations competing in the global marketplace.

Under the guidance and direction of the Japanese American Chamber of Commerce, EDI was created because Japanese Americans were underrepresented in corporate America’s key leadership positions — positions from which the most critical and influential decisions were made.

EDI currently offers two leadership programs. Leadership Discovery, which begins March 17, is geared toward emerging leaders. Leadership Navigation, which starts March 20, is a second-tier program that focuses on individuals in management positions.

Alan Sugiyama

After 30 years at the Center of Career Alternatives, Alan Sugiyama joined EDI as its executive director last January and already has big growth plans for the organization.

EDI has received several requests from other minority groups, including the Native Americans and African Americans, who have expressed interest in the programs. Sugiyama said the institute is considering it.

He also hopes to start the Navigation program in Portland and spread the program out to smaller companies in the Northwest region.

The Hispanic program, which also starts March 17, was launched in 2009. Like the Navigation program, it has generally been a smaller class, but it is definitely growing, said Sugiyama.

Participants come from various backgrounds in engineering, science, business, and others.
Sugiyama explained that the Discovery program, which is the signature program, helps people who desire to be leaders. It also helps them understand how being Asian American can affect them in different ways, he said.

In 1989, Sugiyama became the first Asian American elected to the Seattle School Board. “I had to stretch out of my comfort zone to run for a position that was city-wide. You really have to put yourself out there and take a risk. We are saying the same things to our participants, so they can move out of their comfort zone.”

Sugiyama and his team manage and set the curriculum for the year. They have professional speakers and trainers teach the classes, which are set up in a way that they build on each other. For example, the founder of a leadership program called LEAP in Los Angeles, J.D. Hokoyama, led a class on teamwork in the past.

In addition to the set curriculum, participants must work on a community “give-back” project together. In previous years, participants have helped a local food bank improve check-in processes, train staff, and computerize its systems.

From the Hispanic group, one of the participants worked on a marketing project for the Sea Mar golf tournament. The proceeds go to scholarships for migrant workers. The EDI graduate had been one of the recipients of the scholarships from Sea Mar. It had become a full circle experience for her through EDI.

Sugiyama explained that community partnership at EDI is an important part of the program. It’s not just about helping the participants, he said. It’s also about helping them move up on the ladder, so they can give back to the community that supported them.

For instance, the first minority president of the downtown Rotary, Paul Ishii, has connected EDI with the Rotary. This past year, the service organization offered a special opportunity to all EDI graduates and current participants with free memberships for their first year, worth $1,200.

Employer support has been key to EDI. Ninety-five percent of the students who participate in EDI receive support from their employers’ continuing education assistance.

Julie Pham, 2010 EDI graduate, was able to take advantage of the scholarship opportunity through her membership in NAAAP (National Association of Asian American Professionals).

She said it was a great way for her to gain corporate leadership training that she didn’t have access to at her previous job.

One of Pham’s fondest memories of EDI was a rock climbing session. “When you climb a wall, you’re not always climbing straight up. You have to move left and right before you can move up again,” she explained.

In addition, Pham said that the networking really helped her to meet instrumental people in her career.

Elaine Kitamura

Elaine Kitamura, 1996 EDI graduate, said that EDI teaches people how to work and collaborate successfully on a team.

“EDI has allowed me to make sure my voice is heard, and that I make every effort, even if there’s a risky opportunity, that I will go for something that will help me better my skills and be a greater role model in the community,” Kitamura said.

Kitamura, who now works with the state government and does advocacy engagement work for Clear Channel Outdoor, said she has always felt it was important for her to provide guidance and support to future community leaders and APIs. Graduating from EDI has helped her continue her passion to give back to the community, she added. (end)

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