The Second Annual Engage Innovators and Entrepreneurs Forum

Erin Nelson (director of advancement) writes on the second annual Engage Innovators and Entrepreneurs Forum at the Tokyo American Club held on March 2. The American School in Japan (ASIJ) and the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) coordinated the event, providing an opportunity for ASIJ students to hear directly from leaders in innovation and entrepreneurism, and to network and exchange ideas with members of ACCJ.


This year’s event opened with a sit-down lunch at the Tokyo American Club. Seventeen ASIJ sophomores, juniors and seniors were spread out among eight tables, joining approximately 60 members of the Tokyo business community. The students had the opportunity to meet the professionals at their table and learn more about their work. “I learned how to properly and politely interact at a professional event,” Jessica Yoon, a senior, reflected. Elina Garone, a sophomore, remarked, “Some of the people I spoke with were extremely interesting, I had a few new discoveries and I made some connections!”

After lunch and an introduction by Jessica Yoon, four speakers took the podium—Dan Tani, a former NASA astronaut, current ASIJ faculty member and parent; William Zhang, a senior at ASIJ; Denise R. Rutherford, PhD, president of 3M Japan and an ASIJ parent and Eugene Saburi, president of Adobe Japan and parent of three ASIJ students.

The speakers from the business community addressed how they became interested in science, technology and engineering and how following their passions led them through sometimes unconventional career paths to where they are today. They also addressed questions from the audience regarding innovation and entrepreneurship in Japan.

William Zhang impressed the audience with an overview of his work at ASIJ. As a high school senior taking the open-ended AP Research course, William is conducting primary research into an industrial automation protocol that plays a key part in the Industrial Internet of Things movement by providing a method to interconnect and facilitate data exchange between machinery from different vendors—OPC Unified Architecture. Beyond academic research, William is heavily involved in robotics and computer science. He captained a VEX Robotics team that won the Amaze Award in 2015 and the Think Award in 2016 at ASIJ’s International VEX Robotics Competition. Over the summer, he also engaged with a Japanese company to develop mobile applications.

Amanda Burger, a sophomore at ASIJ, noted, “It was extremely inspiring. People like the presenters have achieved some of my future goals. I also learned a lot about the fields talked about and more about companies and problems I didn’t know about.”

High school junior Yuka Ma had a similar reaction: “I am so glad to have met the many accomplished people at the Engage Forum, and I was able to discover numerous opportunities and possible roads to take from them. Overall, it was eye opening.”

This year, after the conclusion of the Engage Forum, nine of the student participants attended a briefing at LinkedIn’s Tokyo office to learn how to improve their professional networking profiles and how to use LinkedIn to make connections for internships and jobs in the future.

ASIJ hopes to continue this unique annual event, which gives students a rare opportunity to directly connect with the local business community.