By Alexander Junxiang Chen
In today’s world of Zoom calls and social media, text messages and emails, is there any room left for personal and professional development the “old-fashioned way,” that is to say, in person?
Dennis Yamashita, president of Phi Beta Kappa’s Puget Sound Association, certainly thinks so, and he’s taken an active role in promoting within his association the kind of face-to-face interactions that he credits as having helped himself grow and thrive as a professional.
Yamashita, who spent much of his childhood between Seattle and Tokyo, first came across Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Washington, where he became a member. Pursuing a master’s degree in social work at UW upon graduating, Yamashita has since balanced a distinguished career in the global financial services profession with a lifelong commitment to public service in the non-profit sector. Case in point, before becoming the president of the Puget Sound ΦBK Association in July 2022, he had served on its Board of Trustees for the preceding 10 years and had also spent several decades leading charitable organizations focused on deepening US-Japan relationships. For such efforts, he was honored this past November with an award bestowed by the Emperor of Japan himself.
Becoming president of the Puget Sound ΦBK Association has allowed Yamashita to redefine the chapter’s big-picture vision. “I realized that most of our current members are on the older end of the spectrum, which is also the case for many other ΦBK associations, and so, one of my objectives has been to reach out to younger professionals,” said Yamashita. For instance, he has striven to transform the association’s flagship scholarship program, which awards an annual total of $15,000 in grants to undergraduate and graduate students, into more than just an educational funding program, but a vehicle for career development as well.
Yamashita recollected what spurred him to embark on this effort. “One of the individuals who received a scholarship wrote us a very kind letter of appreciation that I found incredibly meaningful,” he said. “Seeing leadership potential in her, I reached out and asked if she wanted to be the lead person in helping build up the program’s young professional outreach efforts.”
But despite their present success, Yamashita admits that such efforts to make the Puget Sound Association a beacon for young professional engagement have seen their own share of choppy waters, especially early on.:
“We were initially struggling with poor attendance, even though we tried hosting events in settings from outdoor parks to indoor coffee shops. Thanks to the ΦBK national association’s financial support through the Key Connections campaign that targets recent ΦBK initiates, however, we were able to find our niche. We found a brewery close to UW with easy public transit options and offered the first drink free along with shared pizzas and appetizers. We soon discovered something surprising: Though the food and drink did draw people to come, we saw that what was more important to young graduates was the opportunity to meet others who are broad-minded and diverse in background and interests like themselves. Very few people were actually eating, because they were just trying to meet one another and exchange personal information about how to contact each other afterward.”
Equipped with this realization, Yamashita has since set out to coordinate events within his association centered around the needs of the newly inducted, such as forums for early-career professionals to develop meaningful connections and relationships. “Recently, we sent out a survey to the 25 people who had attended one of our events about their interest in participating in another,” said Yamashita. “And of the 25 people who the survey went to, we had 12 people respond, and what was even more amazing to me is that five people told us they would like to be involved in planning future events. That’s a home run for me.”
To both recent inductees into ΦBK and young professionals everywhere, Yamashita has just one piece of advice. “Very simply, I would say, be a lifelong learner. Be curious, because that’s what’s going to make you successful.”
More information about the Puget Sound Association, which welcomes ΦBK members living in Seattle and the Puget Sound Area, can be found here.
Alexander Junxiang Chen is a senior at Harvard University who is pursuing a double concentration in neuroscience and chemistry. He was inducted into the Alpha Iota of Massachusetts chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in April 2023.