Vanna Novak

An Interview with EDI’s Co-Founders


2013 Q&A with co-founders, Ted Yamamura & Vanna Novak

How did you two meet?

T: I met Vanna at a meeting at which she was speaking on making effective presentations. I thought she would be a good person to collaborate with for EDI. Vanna wanted to give back to the Asian American community so we started discussing collaboration on EDI.

V: If I remember correctly, Ted saw me speak at a conference for the JACL. And actually, back then, I had no connection to our Asian community. It was because of Ted, that I agreed to get involved. I had no idea that it was going to be just the beginning of a long, but fulfilling journey. I owe a lot to Ted.

Why did the two of you want to create EDI?

T: EDI originally started as a special interest group under the Japanese American Chamber of Commerce. It was created to provide leadership training specifically for Japanese Americans, then it evolved to include all Asian Americans and now Hispanic Americans. Vanna agreed to be a co-founder to develop curriculum for leadership training. We wanted to also provide role models, mentors and create a network for career development.

V: Ted recognized that there was a big gap between the numbers of highly qualified, competent, Asians within American corporations vs. Asian Americans in the executive ranks, and felt the need to do something about it. It was really his grasp of the situation and his vision, that launched plans to build a program like EDI. I happened to have the background to design our initial curriculum so when Ted asked me if I’d help to get EDI off the ground, I said yes. And the rest, as they say, is history. But people should know that EDI was Ted’s vision.

What was your vision when it first started?

T: My vision was to elevate Asian Americans into leadership positions at corporations, government, and non-profit organizations. I wanted Asian Americans to have the same opportunities as Caucasians and to level the playing field for leadership positions. I also wanted to have role models, mentors, networks, in place to provide support and encouragement to Asian Americans striving for leadership positions.

V: I would say that that’s still our vision today and we now are working toward that same goal or vision with our Hispanic program. We still have a long, long way to go.

How has its actual progress been compared to that vision?

T: There have been many improvements and an increase in role models as leaders, yet there are still no top Asian American executives at companies like Boeing. The ultimate goal is to have more people of color in executive positions. I want them to have the same opportunities to excel and have a level playing field.

V: I think that my initial vision was very narrow. What I’ve learned through having had the chance to work directly with all of our program participants over the years is that “progress” can be defined in many ways. So while we’re still far behind in seeing a significant number of Asians or Hispanics in executive positions, what I do see is our participants gaining clarity about what it takes to move into the senior ranks and making clear decisions as to whether they’re willing to do what it takes to move up. Or sometimes I see them becoming leaders within the community at large. I think that’s progress. And when their managers begin to gain an awareness and appreciation for programs like EDI and as a result, they begin to send more of their employees to our programs, well, that’s progress too.

What was the biggest obstacle you felt you had to face during your path to establish EDI? How did you overcome it?

T: The main hindrance I would say is just the administrative details of orchestrating EDI as I was doing it on the side as a service while working at Boeing. The first class was in 1994. Eleven participants registered. It was advertised by word of mouth through the JACC. It was originally for Japanese Americans but we are expanding it to all people of color as we all have the same issues.

V: It was and is 2-fold for me. One of our biggest challenges, which continues to some extent, was convincing people that this was not just another leadership program. There are hundreds of different leadership programs offered to business professionals in our area. What makes EDI different, is that our programs are culturally tailored specifically for Asians and Hispanics. The other challenge we continue to face is one that almost every non-profit faces, and that is, finding and keeping volunteers actively and meaningfully engaged and involved. Just like they say, “It takes a village.”

What would you like to see happen with EDI in the future?

T: I would like to see EDI become a preeminent leadership organization in the future. I would like to see it create connections to top leaders, celebrate achievement in the community, and help all people of color reach leadership positions.

V: Ditto! And in my wildest of dreams, I would love to see EDI do the work that it does so well, that we begin to have a global impact. I would also like to see us expanding our offerings. So maybe we’d offer our programs in different formats. More than anything, I would love to see us develop programs for other groups of color who are underrepresented.

What do you feel is the biggest change in our participants after they leave the program?

T: I see that graduates have more confidence. They are generally more strategic in developing their careers. They give back more to the community and have stronger networking skills.

V: Honestly, I have witnessed profound changes in participants’ sense of themselves. For many, there is a huge leap in their level of confidence and a greater appreciation for their own potential and self-worth. I get to do the class at the front end of their EDI experience that deals with public speaking skills which can be so revealing in terms of one’s self esteem. So I get a pretty good sense of each participant’s confidence level coming into the program. Then I get to see them at graduation, and for some, the transformation in them can bring me to tears. They find the power within themselves that they’ve had all along and just wasn’t aware of. It becomes the tipping point at which they begin to take more risks and more responsibility to build stronger organizations and healthier, happier communities. It’s not magic. It’s a process that they work hard at throughout their EDI experience.

Alumni on the Move - April 2016

Gargitt Au   Asian Discovery, Class of 2014

Gargitt Au

Asian Discovery, Class of 2014

Hello, my name is Gar Au, and I graduated from an amazing EDI class in 2014. I currently work at Boeing as one of the lead design engineers for the 787-10 Flight Test 1 and 2 Linings Commodity. 

My friends and I have worked on developing a board game titled Betabotz for the better part of the past two years. We are finally ready to launch our Kickstarter campaign on May 10th, 2016. 

My current entrepreneurial interest and ambition largely stemmed from a very special panel during one of my EDI classes. I was highly inspired and motivated by many of the speakers, including Chee Chew, who at the time held the position of Vice President of Engineering for Google. I stayed in contact and sought career advice from Mr. Chew subsequent to the panels, and one quote in particular deeply impacted and stuck with me: “follow the intersection of what you are great at and what you love”. Following Mr. Chew’s advice, after some self-reflection and long discussions with those who know me best, I decided to pursue tabletop game development. 

We started the game development process by interviewing the gaming community and identifying what others look for in a tabletop game. We anchored the gameplay to the most consistent answer we received: easy to learn, hard to master. Through countless play testing, social events, and development sessions, I led a team of nine friends through the entirety of the gameplay development phase. In addition to the mechanical gameplay aspect, we found an amazing artist at a gaming convention in Columbus last June, and have collaborated with her on the card illustrations since. 

Developing a game and owning my first company (Zagar Games LLC) certainly presents many challenges and bumps in the road. Capital constraint is one of the toughest hurdles to overcome, as we have no prior published games to support our current development. We chose crowdfunding, specifically Kickstarter, both as an avenue to raise the capital and as a way to showcase our game to the public. Similar to capital constraints, as first time developers, product marketing also presented inherent difficulties. From our research within the gaming community, we realized that word of mouth is often the most time consuming, but most effective way to market new products. As such, in collaboration with our friends in different geographic regions, we hosted numerous Betabotz events in gaming stores and conventions across the country to put our product on the map. Though we have received amazing feedback from nearly everyone who played our game, we still need to reach additional potential backers and supporters to ensure that we reach our Kickstarter goal and ultimately use the funds to complete gaming production.

If you could, it would be of great help to spread the word about the game on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Our Kickstarter will launch on May 10th and run through June 22nd. Please help introduce our game to your friends and family who love board games, or just want to try something new and interactive.  Crowd funding is still a bit unfamiliar and even a bit uncomfortable to me, but every backer is valued and needed to help us achieve our dream of owning and developing our own game. If you would like and are interested to learn more, I would gladly come and demonstrate the game for you as well.  The following link directs to a preview of our current Kickstarter page!

Finally, I would like to thank EDI for such an amazing experience and for helping me find my passion.  Regardless of whether our venture succeeds, I am very grateful for the opportunities I have had and appreciate all the support I’ve received from EDI. 

Elaine Kitamura   Discovery, Class of 1996

Elaine Kitamura

Discovery, Class of 1996

I was fortunate to select positions throughout my career that highlighted my communications degree from the University of Washington. I started working at KOMO TV/Radio immediately after college. Then I continued my media career at KJR Radio and lastly, I worked at Clear Channel Outdoor.  In each role, I gained strength in techniques and developed my self-esteem every level. I was extremely shy so I had to find ways where I could comfortably find myself breaking down this negative barrier.  I knew that this was not a great leadership skill. So, I decided to work on networking. I loved being with people and found strength in networking where I was confident in interacting with others.

After my extensive years in the media/communications field, I have decided to move into the healthcare field.  I am currently the Regional Director for Multicultural Initiatives at the American Heart Association. I work with organizations with a goal to improve cardiovascular health of all Americans and decrease deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20% by 2020. 

My duties will include working with high risk communities by focusing in the areas of hypertension, nutrition, obesity and physical activity. In addition, I will work on health equity strategies that focus on development, advocacy and marketing/communications opportunities. My role will include serving as internal consultant to the region/territory on all diversity-related initiatives. The emphasis will be on diverse communities.  

Throughout my career, I had high expectations in my performance, which led to the development of strong ethics and leadership skills that came along the way. However, I had failures along the way and they helped me realize how I can make or do things better. 

In my earlier years, I was fortunate to meet a wonderful mentor that portrayed the charisma in great leadership.  He knew how to communicate and network with people.  I would watch him meet people in a room, and he was great in displaying leadership skills that I wanted to adapt to my personality.  He allowed people to show or work on their leadership skills. That person was EDI’s founder – Ted Yamamura.  I joined the former NAAAP (previously known as Asian Management Business Association). Ted helped me to grow and develop my leadership skills, and always made me feel like I could be a leader in anything I did.  When he started the EDI program in 1994, I volunteered my time with him in developing the program that has cultivated so many emerging diverse leaders since then.

Ted always surrounded himself with wonderful leaders on his team. In this respect, I also made sure that I surrounded myself with people who I appreciated and admired. Ted taught me to not hesitate to ask for help or ask for referral.  

When I went through the EDI program in 1996, I was very fortunate to have many people who helped/mentored/inspired me along the way.  Even now,  I am always inspired by my alum family.  I looked up to my EDI alums that includes many friends:  Char Grinolds, Vanna Novak, Mae Numata, Marci Nakano, Tommy Leong, Marie Chow, Darryl Hue, Dom Amor and Ador Yano. In addition, I had my wonderful family and boyfriend who always supported me in both my professional and personal life.

The most inspiring person to me is my young mentee, Julie Pham, who I decided to mentor many years ago.  She has since become a graduate of EDI in 2010. Julie wanted advice on how to succeed and network with community leaders.  I helped, guided, and inspired her along the way, but I think I was inspired by her.  I watched as she worked hard on whatever she wanted to accomplish.  However, I was the lucky one since as the mentee, she really helped her mentor.  When I needed help to start a LinkedIn profile, she did not hesitate to help me. When I sought assistance on finding my next career path, she was sending me referrals and providing inspiration to me.  As a mentor, this is the proudest moment because I am thankful that I was able to inspire and help her to succeed in whatever ways I could.  Julie was there when I needed guidance and social media assistance.  To this date, we are still both helping each other professionally and personally.

My advice for others is to ALWAYS think positive and surround yourself with good friends who can help inspire, mentor or help you when times are difficult.  Remember that it is a two way street – you need to return the favor. 

Also, network, network… and work on networking early than later.  When I made my career switch to the non-profit sector, my networking techniques really helped me to find my position. I asked for help among my colleges so I could discover my next passion, which is now at the American Heart Association.

It's also important to find or discover a non-profit organization where you can be passionate about.  The EDI program gives you an opportunity to work with a non-profit organization for your team project.  I find that volunteering at non-profits will often strengthen your potential leadership skills.

I am always motivated when I can mentor inspiring fellow Asian Pacific Islanders.  I want to share what I've learned with people who need help developing their leadership skills!

Coaching Corner - April 2016

Lately I’ve run into Asian colleagues that say they have obtained a “seat at the table” but they don’t feel heard or that no one is listening. It sounds like progress is being made and there is some visibility, but how can we become part of the conversation?

I feel your pain! Through my own experiences I've found that getting a seat at the table is great, but has absolutely nothing to do with being heard once you're there.  While it gave me a certain amount of satisfaction to place the blame on those others at the table who obviously didn't know who I was -- at least that's what I told myself (ha!) -- it's a lot more productive to start with a critical and honest self-evaluation. Here are a few things you might want to reflect on:

  • Have you positioned yourself as an active contributor or an observer, leader or supporter? You know where I'm going with this, right? If you're viewed as more of a silent observer -- which is one of our dominant Asian stereotypes -- who rarely speaks out, or speaks only when supporting the ideas of others, then people will tend to minimize or discount your voice at the table. You’re not seen as an active player with any kind of serious “cred.” Ouch!
  • Do you make it a point to be visible within the organization? This is kind of like running for elected office. The more people see, hear, and know your name in relationship to your successes or accomplishments, the more front of mind you’ll be for all the right reasons. And, the more people will seek you out to get your input. Don’t keep your wins a secret. Find appropriate ways to keep a high and positive profile. I know, that’s so un-Asian! Don’t worry. You won’t be asked to leave the village. As long as you’re known for the right reasons.
  • Have you built and nurtured meaningful relationships? This is important because sometimes it really is all about who you know, and not necessarily what you know. When people see that you’re aligned with those within the organization who are respected and held in high esteem, they’ll pay more attention to you and listen more seriously to what you have to say. It’s called “power through association.” Of course, if what you have to say is lacking in substance, or otherwise lame, then your reputation will quickly erode from perceived power broker to hollow suck-up. Then you will be asked to leave the village. Seriously.
  • Did you do your homework? In other words, have you worked to be a competent, knowledgeable, fully prepared source of information. Or, are you in the habit of “shooting from the hip” and hoping for the best?

If you think you’re doing all of the above and are still not being heard at the table, then it’s time to ask for feedback and guidance from a trusted and respected source who has had opportunities to observe you in action. That person could be your boss. Ask for honest feedback and advice on what you can do to become a voice of influence. Seek input from others who have cultivated a strong and respected voice. Not only can you benefit from their experience, but there’s a good chance you’ll win them over as allies who will help to make sure your voice gets heard. Whatever you do, don’t give up! You deserve to be heard. You were given a seat at the table for a reason. Don’t let it go to waste!

-Vanna Novak, Speak to Persuade

Coaching Corner - March 2016

What’s the best way to approach an executive about being your mentor (assuming they know you and are aware of your work)?

"First of all, kudos for thinking about approaching someone to be your mentor.  As I suspect you know, great mentors can have a tremendous impact on one's career and growth. And how wise you are to be thoughtful in your approach!

I believe the main things to think about are knowing what you want from this mentor -- and why --  and then doing your homework to know what is important to the mentor that would make it worthwhile for she/he to mentor you.  This is especially true if you are looking for a formal mentoring relationship.  Taking an informal approach that could evolve into something more formal over time may be another way to go -- for example, starting with coffee or emails asking for advice, following up with the executive on the advice, and keeping him/her apprised on developments can slowly build THE relationship and result in A MORE formal mentorship.  Cultivating a mentor relationship can be like other new relationships involving compatibility and mutual interests.

Consider how you can engage with this person in a way that creates good positive energy and makes a good memorable impression, regardless of the whether or not they agree to be your mentor.  You can only do your best in making your request, and but you cannot control the other person's response (and he/she may have a good reason for declining that has nothing to do with you).  If you distinguish yourself in a good way and have an engaging interaction, you will leave a good impression that may stick with them.

In my own career, I've had mentors who helped me hone my legal skills, helped in my professional development (making sure I was getting the right amount of responsibility, experience and visibility), and sponsored me in my promotion to law firm partner.  I worked closely with those mentors and they continued to help with career advice even when I changed law firms and ultimately transitioned my career to leadership development. I also formally and informally asked others to mentor me in my new career, keeping them apprised of my career development and work I've been doing, sharing perspectives and looking for opportunities to work together and/or refer work to each other.

Without knowing more about your situation, my instinct as a coach is to answer your questions with questions that may help you come up with your own thoughts on how to proceed:

  1. What, specifically, do you want in terms of mentoring from this person, and Why?  
  2. What are you hoping will be different for you and for them as a result of this mentoring relationship?
  3. How well do you know this person (or how well does this person know you)? 
  4. Do you have a working relationship with this mentor? If so, are you strong performer?
  5. What would this person get out of mentoring you?  Are you an up and comer?  Are there ways you can help this mentor?  Does this person like to mentor people? What do you know about what the mentor cares about? 
  6. If this person is a strong mentor, the likelihood is she/he finds it gratifying, but also that they may be already mentoring others.  So how can you be respectful of their time?
  7. Think about what you can contribute to the mentoring relationship.  What can you share from your vantage point?

Walking yourself through Vanna's Fast Five Steps can be beneficial.  How can you pull them in -- getting their attention and distinguishing yourself in a good way?  What is the pain or challenge you are dealing with?  How can being mentored by this person help?  What can you contribute to the mentoring relationship (think KOM or their WIIFM)?  What would a successful mentorship relationship look like and how might it work (keeping mind they might have their own ideas about this)? 

Good luck!"

- Colleen Yamaguchi & Vanna Novak

Marci's Column - June 2015

AboveOn May 18th, over 40 people attended the Portland Meet & Greet in welcoming Marci Nakano as EDI’s new Executive Director.

I’m now into my 4th month as EDI’s Executive Director (time is flying fast!) and there is one word/topic that is at the forefront of every conversation and that is….

ALUMNI!  Did you know that with this year’s class we now have close to 900 EDI alums?  It’s truly amazing to know that there are 900 of us out there in companies and communities that all share this common thread of participating in the EDI program.  

The greatest pleasure in working for EDI is connecting with and hearing from the alums.  I want to give a shout out to all of the alumni that have been sharing with us your stories and to say please keep the stories coming.  We can feel the momentum growing with each newsletter.  In fact last month after the newsletter went out, we got an overwhelming response of alums submitting their stories to us.  We love that! 

Recently, Marci attended an alumni dinner.

Back: Sandy Hedington (EDI Board Member), Marie Chow, Joe Darza, Char Grinolds (EDI Co-Chair), Darryl Hue, and Ador Yano.

Front: Marci Nakano (EDI Executive Director), Elaine Kitamura, and Vanna Novak (EDI Board Member/Co-Founder)

As you’ll see in this month’s newsletter, we are hosting an “Alumni Open House” at our EDI office in Bellevue.  There’s no agenda or program, just a means to open our doors to all of you and to see & hear from you.  We’ll have food, prizes and you can be the first to sign our “EDI wall”.  If you don’t know what that is – you’ll just have to come and find out.

In the past month, I’ve had the opportunity to have coffee, lunch, dinners with alums and I’m so incredibly excited about all the things I’ve been hearing.   Want to meet up to share ideas, provide feedback, or just catch up?  Please email me and let’s get together! 

Featured: Program Chairs

Left to Right:  Andrea Cortes-Beltran, Vanna Novak (EDI Founder/Facilitator), Mark Kawabata, Melanie Tinsley, Ronald Woo, Claire Mak, and Nicole Ngonevolalath, pose for a picture after their "Train the Trainer" session in preparation for their respective programs.                              Not pictured:  Pha Mom, Jose Gomez, Ryan Truair, Cesar Amaral, and Colleen Yamaguchi.

Left to Right: Andrea Cortes-Beltran, Vanna Novak (EDI Founder/Facilitator), Mark Kawabata, Melanie Tinsley, Ronald Woo, Claire Mak, and Nicole Ngonevolalath, pose for a picture after their "Train the Trainer" session in preparation for their respective programs.                           

Not pictured: Pha Mom, Jose Gomez, Ryan Truair, Cesar Amaral, and Colleen Yamaguchi.

For EDI, the people who make running the programs possible, are the Program Chairs, past and presentThey are truly EDI's Champions! EDI's Program Chairs are past alumni, who volunteer their time back (for up to two years) to EDI simply because they love the programs so much.


     One of the returning Program Chairs, Mark Kawabata, says, "The best part about EDI is the energy and excitement that flows through the participants. There are many classes that address leadership in business, but to be a part of a program tailored to incorporate personal cultural values elevates it to a higher level." An added benefit for Mark is also working closely with EDI's Executive Director, Marci Nakano, to make sure the programs are running smoothly.

Q & A with the 2015 Program Chairs:

"Why did you become a Program Chair?"


Pha Mom:  I enjoy watching people grow throughout the year and it's great to know that I took part in that growth.


Nicole Ngonevolalath:  I want to work on my skill set and go through the program again as a refresher because if we don't use it, we lose it.


Ryan Truair: There was a need for someone to step into a leadership role, and I took it as an opportunity to apply and exercise what I learned as a program participant.


Claire Mak:  I want to give back to the EDI community, promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and help other Asians become better leaders. I also enjoy meeting new people, and there's no better way to network with other Asian professionals than being part of EDI.

"What do you enjoy most about being a Program Chair?"


Pha Mom:  I love meeting new people and learning their story!


Nicole Ngonevolalath:  Meeting and learning about the new participants, but also having the chance to get to know the trainers on a different level! And of course, the FOOD!


Claire Mak: I love sharing my experiences and lessons that I learned with the EDI class. Mentoring other Asian professionals makes me feel proud :)


Colleen Yamaguchi:  It's a fabulous opportunity to create an environment where people can learn, share and grow together, and to see that come alive.  In all the programs, each participant has a wealth of experience and perspective to contribute, so the peer dynamic is rich and a critical component of learning. Tapping into the wisdom of the group as new concepts and tools are introduced generates an upward synergy of insights and leader development that is exciting to see. I learn a lot too!

Advice for someone thinking about becoming a Program Chair:


Pha Mom:  If you want to grow, give back. Giving back is one of the best things you can do for yourself and others.


Nicole Ngonevolalath:   DO IT! It's an opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and embrace the challenge.


Ryan Truair:  Go for it. You will not regret your decision.


Claire Mak:  There's nothing better than giving back to your community, learning new skills, re-living the EDI experience with new friends, and helping improve the EDI program!