SPICE’s Stanford e-Japan Instructor Waka Takahashi Brown Honored with the Elgin Heinz Outstanding Teacher Award


2019 Elgin Heinz Outstanding Teacher Award ceremony
David Janes, Consul General Tomochika Uyama, Waka Takahashi Brown, and Daniel Tani
Photo credit: 
Yuriko Romer

The Elgin Heinz Outstanding Teacher Award recognizes exceptional teachers who further mutual understanding between Americans and Japanese. EngageAsia administers the Elgin Heinz Outstanding Teacher Award, which is funded by the United States-Japan Foundation. The 2019 Award focused on the humanities and the 2020 Award will focus on Japanese language. It is named in honor of Elgin Heinz for his commitment to educating students about Asia as well as for the inspiration he has provided to the field of pre-collegiate education.

On December 5, 2019, SPICE’s Stanford e-Japan Instructor and Manager Waka Takahashi Brown was presented with the 2019 Elgin Heinz Outstanding Teacher Award for her teaching excellence with Stanford e-Japan, an online course that introduces U.S. society and culture and U.S.–Japan relations to high school students in Japan. Stanford e-Japan is currently supported by the Yanai Tadashi Foundation. Initial funding for Stanford e-Japan was provided by the U.S.-Japan Foundation.

“Waka walks in the footsteps of Elgin Heinz as a key leader in educating the next generation about the U.S.–Japan relationship,” stated David Janes, Chair of the Board, EngageAsia. Heinz was born in China in 1913 and taught in the San Francisco Unified School District for 40 years. Challenging Americans’ lack of knowledge about Asia was central to Elgin’s life’s work. Janes has overseen the Elgin Heinz Outstanding Teacher Award since its inception in 2001. Daniel Tani, Director of Foundation Grants at the U.S.-Japan Foundation, and Janes formally presented the award to Brown.

In addition to teaching Stanford e-Japan for the last five years, Brown previously served as instructor for SPICE’s Reischauer Scholars Program (RSP). The RSP is an online course that introduces Japanese society and culture and U.S.–Japan relations to high school students in the United States. Current RSP Instructor and Manager Naomi Funahashi is a 2017 Elgin Heinz Outstanding Teacher Award recipient.

Waka Brown, Professor Daniel Okimoto, and Miles Brown (husband of Waka)Congratulatory comments were made by the Honorable Tomochika Uyama, Consul General of Japan in San Francisco, who underscored the importance of Brown’s efforts and the significance of Stanford e-Japan and the RSP to enhancing U.S.–Japan relations from the grassroots level. Consul General Uyama and Stanford Professor Emeritus Daniel Okimoto, who was also present at the ceremony, serve as advisors to Stanford e-Japan and the RSP. Okimoto is Brown’s former professor and longtime mentor.

Prior to joining SPICE, Brown taught Japanese language at Silver Creek High School in San Jose and served as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. Brown obtained both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Stanford University.

In her acceptance speech, Waka noted: “As a Japanese American growing up in Kansas in the 1970s and 80s, and then as a Japanese American woman working in Japan, I’ve felt the need and immediacy for fostering cross-cultural understanding for my entire life. I feel extremely fortunate that I am able to work toward this goal through my professional work. My students and their knowledge and passion humble me. I am constantly in awe of them and their accomplishments. It is a true honor to receive the Elgin Heinz Award, and I am grateful for the opportunity to use these funds to foster connections between the future leaders in U.S.–Japan relations.”

Through Stanford e-Japan, Brown has engaged Japanese high school students from throughout Japan in an intensive study of U.S. society and culture. Since its first session in 2015, over 200 Japanese students have successfully completed the course. Some of her students have matriculated to universities in the United States.

In a very meaningful moment of the ceremony, Ryoga Umezawa, one of Brown’s former Stanford e-Japan students and now a university student at the Minerva Schools at KGI in San Francisco, expressed his gratitude to Brown, noting that the online format of Stanford e-Japan eased his transition to the online format of his university studies and also noted that the knowledge he gained from Stanford e-Japan has been invaluable to his transition to life in the United States.

The ceremony ended with a duet by Norman Masuda, an inaugural recipient of the Elgin Heinz Outstanding Teacher Award in 2002 (Japanese language category), and Irene Nakasone, instructor of kutu (Okinawan koto). Nakasone played the kutu and Masuda, the sanshin (Okinawan shamisen). They performed “Akanma Bushi” (red horse folk song), which was symbolic to the occasion as it is a congratulatory classical piece from the Yaeyama Islands, Okinawa Prefecture.

Irene Nakasone and Norman Masuda play a duet at the 2019 Elgin Heinz Outstanding Teacher Award ceremony.

For more information on the Stanford e-Japan Program, visit stanfordejapan.org. The Spring 2020 application period is open now until January 8, 2020. To be notified when the next Stanford e-Japan application period opens, join our email list or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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