By Emily S. Tang,
PP55 Program Coordinator for TAN
The idea of public service has gradually shifted from a quiet rumbling to a loud roar across our nation. Due, in part, to the call to service by the Obama administration, individuals are looking for ways to become more engaged as citizens, uniting with a new level of commitment to address the societal challenges that face our country today.
While compatriots may be seeking public service with a renewed sense of duty right now more than ever, places like the Swearer Center for Public Service at Brown University have been preparing students for lives of effective action and socially responsible citizenship for over two decades.
Roger Nozaki ’85 is the current director of the Swearer Center for Public Service, which works to advance the undergraduate education of its students and address inequalities in our society. By offering structured opportunities to students and faculty, the Swearer Center engages and directly impacts communities while creating, applying, and sharing knowledge for the public good.
Under Roger’s leadership, the Swearer Center has worked to focus and deepen its efforts to increase its impact on both student learning and community issues. “The faculty, students and University as a whole have a lot to offer to the community,” Nozaki says. “However, it can never be a paternalistic relationship. It really is a two-way street, with resources, opportunities, and challenges on both sides.”
Roger Nozaki, along with other Brown alumni, students, and staff are working with The Alumni Network to further initiatives with Careers in the Common Good, a program of the Swearer Center and the Career Development Center, for students interested in public interest, nonprofit and social justice careers. Having served in his current position for more than three years, Roger’s path to becoming director of the Swearer Center was by no means accidental. His interest in education and public service was sparked early on.
“For the work to have the greatest amount of impact, you have to start with focusing on the core issues and figuring out the best structure and strategies to have an impact.”
– Roger Nozaki ’85
While pursuing a history degree at Princeton, Roger was active in the Student Volunteers Council, where he worked with adults with disabilities in the Princeton area. This experience would later lead him to serve for two years as a full-time volunteer in Virginia working within a community of adults with developmental disabilities.
Prior to becoming director of the Swearer Center, Roger worked at the Hitachi Foundation and also served as executive director of the GE Foundation, where he managed efforts to improve education for underrepresented students. The several years of corporate experience that Roger had at the GE Foundation gave him the opportunity to utilize his understanding of education to further the impact of GE’s work.
“There is no direct translation from the successes in the corporate world to those of the nonprofit world, but different sets of experiences have provided me with a broad range of approaches to social issues,” Nozaki remarks. “The distinction between for-profit and non-profit was created by the tax code, but that alone shouldn’t be driving our strategies. For the work to have the greatest amount of impact, you have to start with focusing on the core issues and figuring out the best structure and strategies to have an impact.”
His continued interest in education led him to Brown University where he earned his teaching degree while serving on staff at the Swearer Center from 1988-1989, two years after it was originally founded. After completing his degree at Brown in 1989, Roger took a job based out of the University of Chicago to help build a network of nonprofits and aid individuals looking for work in the nonprofit field.
It was during this opportune time, as Nozaki was seeking out the top leaders and connectors in the Chicago area, that he would meet a fellow Princeton alumnus, John Fish ’55, who shared with him the vision and goals that laid the groundwork for Princeton Project 55. Later, when Roger would come to work with Campus Compact, a coalition of colleges focused on strengthening higher education through civic engagement, Nozaki would reconnect with other Princeton alumni and Project 55 founders, including Charlie Bray ’55.
Throughout his career, public service and education have been central to his passion and personal mission. Nozaki bears a deep understanding and sense of imperative when it comes to the role that education plays in heeding the call to service. “To have a President and First Lady who not only see the importance of public service and civic engagement but know the value and impact of this kind of work on a personal level, makes a huge difference,” he comments.
Nozaki offers advice to students and citizens who are exploring the public sector and attempting to follow their own call to service: “Find people you can learn from who can be both mentors and connectors. There is so much that can be learned from people who have laid the foundation for doing this kind of work and who have been making a difference their whole lives,” he says. “Then, think creatively about the unusual paths or connections that can be made and the unique set of experiences that you can bring to your work.”
Roger Nozaki ’85 is the Director of the Swearer Center for Public Service and the Associate Dean of the College at Brown University. To find out more about Roger Nozaki and the Swearer Center, please visit: swearercenter.brown.edu.