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Student leadership roles led graduate to MBA

by Jennifer Johnson,

Jarin Kobashigawa

When Jarin Kobashigawa BA ’20, MBA ’21 first enrolled at Willamette University, he had no idea he’d end the experience with an MBA

But the abundance of student organizations on campus and a desire to find his community motivated him to get involved, and he took on leadership roles that cleared the path for him to study business and marketing. The 3+2 program was a faster way to become more marketable to employers, and he’s happy with his decision, he said. 

“I have absolutely loved it here,” he said. 

Learning by doing

Kobashigawa excelled at economics in high school and decided to pursue it at Willamette, where he felt students could thrive and excel. 

While his degree provided a solid foundation for his MBA, he believes campus involvement taught him a certain work ethic that’s required to be successful in the graduate program. 

In his first three years at Willamette, Kobashigawa became involved with activities campuswide — he edited the sports section at the Collegian, hosted a program on Willamette’s radio station KWU, participated in intramurals and even spent some time as Blitz the Bearcat. 

But one of his biggest duties was becoming an international peer coach for Tokyo International University of America, helping American Studies Program students adjust to Willamette’s culture and lifestyle. In a role he describes as a “three-month long Opening Days leader,” he held weekly meetings, hosted several campus events and led trips to Portland to ensure ASP students felt like they’re part of the community. In 2019, he received a Bearcat Excellence award for his contributions. 

Acclimating to a new culture and the rhythms of college can be challenging, and Kobashigawa knows that firsthand after moving from O’ahu to Oregon. He stayed connected to home by participating in one of the university’s most prominent cultural events, the Hawaii Club’s annual Lū'au, a student-run event that attracts hundreds of people each year. His initial job distributing T-shirts proved an excellent way for him to get to know the community, and he later advanced to managing the logistical aspects of Lū'au, working with about 100 volunteers, dancers, faculty and staff, and outside vendors.

“Our Lū'au is like a real business, and it operates like an organization, which gave me both leadership and managerial experience,” he said. 

This past year, the team held a virtual event, which required several days of filming and virtually teaching choreography to students, faculty and alumni — then hours of sifting through clips, editing and soliciting feedback. He’s very proud of what they accomplished despite the challenges with COVID-19, and overall the journey is one from which he’s learned a lot, he said. 

New career plan

Multi-generational financial planning was originally Kobashigawa’s intent for a career, as he found some satisfaction in using the financial knowledge he learned to help families to build and sustain wealth for generations. 

He was born into a family who had sacrificed a lot and worked hard for him and his siblings’ generation so they could have an opportunity to do more, he said. But after he decided to pursue the 3+2 program, he changed his mind. 

As he worked toward his economics degree, Kobashigawa spent three summers interning in Hawaii for the financial planning company Island Wealth. When COVID-19 caused internship opportunities to diminish, an MBA alum Kobashigawa met suggested he create opportunities to provide value at companies he already knew, so Kobashigawa proposed revamping Island Wealth’s website last summer. The company allowed him to lead a team in updating its messaging, content and design, and he also filmed and edited a video about its founder.

Much of his job was informed by his marketing classes, and he enjoyed the experience so much he realized he’d found a new career path. 

“Marketing is a really cool combination of psychology and economics — understanding what people need, what they prefer and communicating a value proposition to those customers,” he said. “It’s almost like dating. You want to match companies to people and you want them both to benefit from the relationship. If the relationship works, you have really good customer loyalty, retention, and even referrals and that’s fascinating.” 

He’s currently interviewing for jobs and hopes to work at a philanthropic company in Hawaii or the Pacific Northwest that’s closely connected to its community. 

Five years ago, Kobashigawa was terrified to take the next step in life. Now he’s excited for whatever the future holds — especially knowing his experience at Willamette has helped prepare him for it, he said. 

About Willamette University’s Atkinson Graduate School of Management

Based in Salem, Oregon, we are the premier private university in the Pacific Northwest — the only university in the country that appears on both the US News Best National Liberal Arts Colleges list and the Forbes and Businessweek best business schools lists. With unique proximity to our state's capitol, we are a national leader in civic engagement, delivering an “Only at Willamette” education.

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