by Kim McMillen (USJETAA)
Sponsored by the 2019-2020 Sasakawa USA/USJETAA Grant
JET Alumni gathered in Washington, D.C. on November 7, 2020 to honor JETAA achievements and to continue the momentum of growth as chapters across the United States begin to enter maturity by celebrating their 30th anniversaries. JET alumni representing the first cohort in 1987 to those who have returned the U.S. as recently as 2019, spanning the entire duration of the JET Program, attended this award ceremony and panel discussion. In addition, members of the JETAADC Boards, sponsor organizations, including Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA, USJETAA, and Cultural Vistas, JET Program Office Coordinators, Japanese Government representatives, including the Education Attaché at the Embassy of Japan, and CLAIR New York, and members of the Japan America Society of Washington, D.C. all came to support and weigh in as well on the JET pipeline discussion.
“My dream is for the business and diplomatic communities to see the expertise of JET alumni; invite [JET alumni] to come and they will be really impressed [...]. You can make it happen.” ~Paige Cottingham-Streater, JETAADC Legacy Award Recipient
The event opened with welcome remarks from Rachel Reed, president of JETAADC, Bahia Simons-Lane, executive director of USJETAA, and Joy Champaloux, program officer of Sasakawa USA and former JETAADC president. The evening’s activities then kicked off with an award ceremony which featured a keynote speech by JETAADC Founding member JET alumni Paige Cottingham-Streater, Executive Director of the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, Executive Director of the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation, and Secretary General of CULCON. 30 years after the founding of JETAADC, the first JETAA Chapter in the United States, Paige’s vision for the future of the alumni association held strong as she was awarded the inaugural Legacy Award for her significant contributions to JETAADC and her leadership in the broader U.S.-Japan relationship.
In recognition that while JETAADC has grown tremendously in the last 30 years, attendees of the JETAADC’s “Maintaining the JET Momentum” event also met to discuss the continued growth of the chapter in strengthening a sense of identity as ambassadors for the U.S.-Japan relationship within the private sector, public sector, and the international exchange community through a panel discussion titled “Maintaining the JET Momentum: The Post-Exchange Pipeline to Successful U.S.-Japan Leadership.”
The panel discussion featured Jordan Heiber, Deputy Representative at MUFG Bank, Kat Tarr, Coordinator for Japan and Korea, Office of Public Diplomacy, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, and Jessica Kling, International Program Coordinator, School of International Service at American University. The panelists focused on how they have maintained the the JET momentum and become strong U.S.-Japan leaders across the sectors, representing how the JETAADC Alumni community has been actively involved in the U.S.-Japan relationship.
The main questions proposed to the panelists and the breakout sessions afterwards revolved around how participation on the JET program has affected post-JET careers, how JET alumni can continue to engage with their interest in Japan and/or support U.S.-Japan relations, and finally how the JETAA chapters, JETAADC at the forefront, can help this process of chapter maturation.
Continuing after JET in Japan-related jobs and industries presents many challenges to JETAA chapters. However, JETAA has a vast network spanning many different industries as JETs return and find employment in the United States, such as in STEM, law, medicine, and government. This network can be incredibly valuable for recent returnees but without addressing some of the major challenges, it is a resource that has not yet been fully appreciated or tapped.
A main issue identified by the panelists and the breakout sessions is that gaps exist all along the JET & JETAA pipeline which affect the impact and reach of the JETAA network. From the attraction of the JET program to thought about post-JET career throughout the duration of participation in the JET program to the need for more opportunities and sustainability for JET alumni and chapters post-JET, JETAA chapters should become aware of these issues and how to most effectively address them using its biggest resource, the vast alumni network.
A major gap in the JET/JETAA pipeline identified by the panelists and needing to be addressed is the lack of a key network for JET alumni to plug into especially because while on JET, participants are removed from the U.S. network, prime time for young professionals to be building their own. Solutions proposed by attendees ranged from leveraging the JETAADC alumni to help break down barriers in entering the JETAA community by engaging the overall community more in the public, private, nonprofit, and higher ed sectors.
JETAADC alumni in business can relay skills needed to engage the private sector through understanding how to make specific asks in addition to building and prioritizing relationships. They can also help engage business organizations such as the Japan Commerce Association of Washington D.C. (JCAW) while nonprofit/higher ed alumni can help build relationships with universities to host events on campuses, collaborating on professional events with universities, and by promoting university talks to introduce the JET community to key university contacts.
Other solutions mentioned were to engage more of the alumni network especially as it can be difficult finding other alums in a specific industry. More closely tracking membership and investing in industry-based interest groups like the JETs@State group within the public sector, which would take dedication and time, would reap the rewards of a stronger sense of how to plug in to the industries here in the United States. The JETAADC board can also broaden alumni engagement by reaching out to established alumni, those who are 35+, have 10+ years experience post-JET and represent different life stages, in developing mentorship programs, serving on the board or as a board of advisor, broadening engagement by offering various types of events to reduce barriers and entice a greater diversity of alumni to join the JETAA network. Such offerings could span the range of family friendly events, hosting alumni as professionals for panels, webinars, workshops, and offering a variety of volunteer opportunities like hosting Japanese interns or even doing cross-chapter events to pull in the greater JETAAUSA network.
The other major gap addressed by the panelists is a lack of alumni skills and credentials after the JET program that connect alumni JET experiences into U.S. industries and career needs across the various sectors. The JETAA network can assist JET participants both before and during their time in Japan teaching English on what professional development opportunities they have access to such as relevant advanced degrees, an investment in a network of their chosen careers, and participation in other immersive programs/fellowships. In addition, JETAA can create even more opportunities by flexing the JETAA network in organizing career development workshops such as what the Peace Corps conducts. In the higher ed sector, JETAADC could network to create scholarship opportunities, while in the private sector, JETAADC can increase awareness of and opportunities in Japanese businesses in the U.S. through professional development seminars. Once alumni can connect with the JET community, informational interviews in a chosen industry can increase the ability for JET alumni to open doors and create a pathway to success as they look to start or continue a career.
“I want JET to be the thing on your resume which will get you in the door, like Fulbright. These interpersonal, intercultural skills you’ve developed should be a signal. Not just to someone who’s also a JET, but in general.” ~Rachel Reed, JETAADC President
The conversation continued after the panel discussion in small breakout sessions led by the panelists on the following topics and with the following moderators:
Public Diplomacy and the JET Pipeline
- Kat Tarr – Discussion leader
- Joy Champaloux – Sasakawa USA Rep/ Former JETAADC President
- Kevin Chen – Current JETAADC Secretary, notetaking
Business/Private Sector and the JET Pipeline
- Jordan Heiber – Discussion leader
- Rachel Reed – Current JETAADC President
- Amanda Rollins – Current JETAADC JET Ambassadors Chair, notetaking
International Education/Non-Profit Sector and the JET Pipeline
- Jessica Kling – Discussion leader
- Bahia Simons-Lane – Current Executive Director of USJETAA/Former President of JETAA FL
- Hayley Aron – Current JETAADC Professional Development Chair, notetaking
At the end of the evening after challenges were brought up and suggestions made, the sense of hope grew. JETAA will continue to expand in scope and become a recognized resource throughout the U.S.-Japan community with knowledgeable Japan experts eager to continue as cultural exchange ambassadors and grassroots organizers dedicated to deepening the U.S.-Japan relationship.