Jan Yoshiwara: Channeling 1960’s Student Activism For 21st Century Change

Jan Yoshiwara counts herself lucky to have been in high school and college in California during a time of excitement, change and activism in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Her family had been detained in internment camps during World War II, and Jan understood what prejudice looked and felt like through the stories she heard from her family members. She knew she had to get involved and fight for students like herself who may not have the same opportunities as others because of their race, ethnicity, financial hardships, or language barriers.

The daughter of first-generation college students who had hard-working immigrant parents from Japan, Jan grew up going to middle-class college prep schools knowing she would attend college. Growing up, she heard stories of the injustices her grandparents, aunts, uncles and extended family had to endure coming from Japan and wanted to be part of the change for others. It was this soul-searching as a young student at the University of California-Davis that propelled Jan to become engaged as an advocate and a student representative on the educational opportunity program (EOP) committee, which helped set admissions criteria. This experience helped Jan realized higher education policy was something she wanted to pursue as a career.

“Being on the EOP committee was the first thing that got me very interested in policy from a higher education opportunity perspective. I realized from that experience almost everybody sitting around the table was doing this for a living and I was not. I completely changed course. I was a pre-med student and I changed my path as a result of that experience. It wasn’t just that I was on the EOP committee. I was an activist at my university. I organized students of color. I was involved in student government because we were trying to make student government more inclusive in funding and supporting students of color at the university. That experience brought everything together to me about what did I want to do with the rest of my life in terms of my career pathway.”

Jan moved to Washington following graduation to pursue a graduate program in student personnel administration. She went to work at a community college straight out of graduate school and was the minority affairs director for six years. When an opportunity came up to work at the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges for Washington state, Jan immediately jumped at it, recalling her dreams when she was 21 working on the EOP committee at UC Davis.

“It had been my goal to work at some kind of policy arena like I did when I was 21 as an undergraduate. I love this work here at the community college board and I’ve been here ever since.”

Jan has been with the State Board since 1984, and previously served as deputy executive director for education. In that role, she helped set policy and strategic planning for Washington’s community and technical college system, oversaw the State Board’s education division, and worked with higher education stakeholders to advance education goals and policies. She continues to uphold and advance these relationships as executive director.

She earned a Bachelor of Science in zoology from the University of California, Davis and Master of Education in student personnel administration for higher education from Western Washington University.