Stephen Yamada uses his communication skills in new job

by University Communications,

As commencement approaches, our graduates reflect on their Willamette experience and share their plans for the future. This is the second of our five-part series.

When Stephen Yamada ’13 graduates from Willamette University in May, he won’t be pounding the pavement looking for a job.

He already found one.

“I’m in the position I had hoped to get five years from now,” Yamada says about working for Organization for Educational Technology & Curriculum in Portland. “The level of responsibility is astonishing.”

OETC is an incorporated nonprofit company that organizes a consortium of schools and organizations to lower the cost of technology. The company also provides training and consulting in how to use the technology.

Yamada was hired as the marketing communications coordinator, charged with everything from redesigning OETC’s website, logo and materials to writing monthly newsletters.

He started freelancing for the company a year ago and will begin working for OETC full-time on June 1.

Excited by his burgeoning career, the Chicago native attributes much of his success to the relationships he built at Willamette.

“I’m excited to start my new life in Portland, but I will miss the community I have here,” says Yamada, who majored in rhetoric and media studies. “It’s been my home for the past four years, and it will be hard to leave that behind.”

Creative Undertakings

Yamada first visited campus after he enrolled. Trusting the recommendation of a family friend and his yearning to explore the Pacific Northwest, Yamada hoped Willamette would make a good fit.

It did.

“When I first got here during Opening Days, I immediately felt at home,” Yamada says. “By that point I had already met with professors over coffee and I had gotten to know them quite well. I was impressed by what Willamette had to offer. ”

Perhaps even more impressive were the opportunities Yamada made for himself.

Not only did he help create Tandem, a 14-member, coed a cappella group, he designed its logo and posters.

He was hired as a graphic designer — first for Willamette Integrated Technology Services and later for Willamette’s Marketing Communications Department. And he designed the poster for the university’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration for three consecutive years.

Yamada was also chosen as the photographer and designer for the Advocacy Institute in the summer of 2012.

Through the institute, Willamette students travel to Xi’an, China, where they and other students engage in lectures, discussions and debates to gain a deeper understanding of sustainability.

“I heard David Douglass (dean of campus life) was sitting on an internship,” Yamada says about the program. “I had never met him before, but after leaving his office, I was going to China. … I sought my own avenues to pursue graphic design here. I became the person known for that.”

On that trip, Yamada delivered a lecture to 50 students — something no other student has ever done, Douglass says.

“His session covered visual rhetoric, and it was lively, engaging and filled with good content,” Douglass says. “All in all, Stephen performed at a level that would have been impressive for a full-time staff member. The fact that he was a student made his contributions to this program extraordinary.”

Close Connections

Yamada learned about graphic design as a teenager. But instead of attending an art school with friends, he opted to pursue a liberal arts education at Willamette.

“I thought I’d be better able to handle life by earning a liberal arts degree,” he says. “I wanted to know my professors, and when I came to this school, I was told this was a great place to do that.”

Cindy Koenig Richards ’01, who teaches rhetoric and media studies, is one Willamette professor who has gotten to know Yamada well. Together, the two have developed teaching methods that incorporate iPads in the classroom — which became the topic of Yamada’s thesis.

The pair also are co-authoring a paper about the best practices for learning technology in the classroom, which they’re submitting to a national rhetoric conference.

“During his four years at Willamette, it's been exciting to see Stephen develop from an aspiring graphic designer to someone who integrates visual communication and the liberal arts in powerful ways,” says Koenig Richards, who connected Yamada with her husband Thomas Richards ’01, CEO of OETC.

“Having worked closely with Stephen in his major and minor courses, as well as on research and design projects beyond the classroom, I knew that that his ability to communicate innovative ideas and engage diverse constituencies would be a good fit for the OETC.”

Jumping Ahead

With graduation looming, Yamada says he’s happy to have found a job that combines his love for rhetoric with his passion for design.

“It turns out my job will be a lot of copy writing and a lot of coming up with strategies for communication,” he says. “Graphic design is only part of what I do, and I would have been unprepared for this job without my rhetoric training.”

Now, only weeks away from earning his bachelor’s degree, Yamada says he’s ready to enter the work force.

“I’m exactly where I had hoped I would be and farther along than I thought was possible,” he says.