An interview and bio of Eric Nakajima
Eric Nakajima has traveled widely over the years, but he's always come back to the Valley -- and to the University of Massachusetts. Nakajima, of Amherst, is senior research manager at the Donahue Institute, the university's public service and economic development arm. His history at UMass dates back to his undergraduate days in the 1980s, when he was a student member of the school's board of trustees and an outspoken opponent of tough budget cuts.
Nakajima didn't actually finish his undergraduate degree until 1999, as he was busy with other things for many years, including working for former Gov. Michael Dukakis. Since then he's lived in Boston, Washington, D.C., and Berkeley, Calif., and visited many additional places, including Japan, where much of his extended family lives. Along the way, he says, "My interests have taken me into environmental policy, the outdoors, affordable housing policy and economic development."
He chairs the Comprehensive Planning Committee in Amherst, which is working on a long-range development plan for the town, and his work at the Donahue Institute is focused on similar public policy challenges for the Valley and the state as a whole. "Hopefully it's something that makes a difference," he says.
Full name: Eric Toshiyuki Nakajima
Date and place of birth: Nov. 28, 1966, Pompton Plains, N.J.
Job: Senior research manager, UMass Donahue Institute
Who lives under the same roof as you? Just me for now
Education: Amherst Regional High School, 1985; University of Massachusetts at Amherst, B.A. in political science, 1999; University of California at Berkeley, M.A. in city planning, 2002
Books you'd recommend to a friend: I'd include "Young Men and Fire," by Norman Maclean; "RFK: A Memoir," by Jack Newfield; "Stride Toward Freedom," by Martin Luther King Jr.; and the "The Hudson River: A Natural and Unnatural History," by Robert H. Boyle
Favorite movies: "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Groundhog Day" and "It's a Wonderful Life"
Favorite television shows: Watching the Red Sox and Patriots; "The Simpsons"
Favorite singer or group: Ryuichi Sakamoto, Cracker, Elvis Costello, Isaac Hayes, Frank Sinatra
Guilty pleasures: Gourmet cheese and bread; lots of unagi (eel)
Life-changing experience: Working on Gov. Dukakis' staff as a young man and getting to know Paul Tsongas. These people cared deeply about making Massachusetts a better place to live and were a tremendous example of public service
Funniest memory: As kids, my brother, sister and I joined the children of the farm family we were visiting in jumping from a hayloft onto a huge pile of manure. Believe it or not, it was fun until our parents found us!
Strangest job you ever held: Driving a concessions truck around UMass and selling boiled hot dogs and stale coffee. Yum &
A little-known fact about you: My great-great-great-grandfather, Christopher Hockaden, fought in the Union Army from Bull Run to Gettysburg to Sherman's march to the sea. He served in the 53rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry with six other friends from Otway (our hometown) and six out of seven of them returned safe and sound
Dumbest thing you ever did: When I was 9, I whittled with a rusty pocket knife and sliced open my hand. Unattended children and knives -- bad combination
One product, trend or fashion you'd like to see return: Pet rocks. Or at least the sense of the absurd and fun that went with them
What really sets you off? Elitism, condescension and cruelty
Celebrity encounters: I had a conversation once with Joe Namath about quarterbacking and football at a football camp I attended; I ran into Joe Jackson (almost literally) at a coffee shop in New York
People who knew you in high school thought you were: Daring. I once sang in front of the entire student body dressed up as Prince!
Whom do you most admire? Roger Wallace, my fifth- and sixth-grade teacher. He showed me what a human being can accomplish if he is dedicated to learning and the people around him. And my Uncle Ralph Ivers, who was the most dedicated father, husband and uncle that I've met -- a great example of what it means to be a man
Parting shot: The older I get, the more I cherish my good friends and family. There is so much to do each day that it is essential to "be present" when you get the time to be with the ones you love.
June 15, 2007