Raised near Los Angeles, Calif., Eric Nakano is no stranger to big cities. The fourth generation Japanese-American got his undergraduate degree in political science at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. When he headed to graduate school at age 29, Nakano wanted to experience something new.
“It was unlikely given my goals that I would end up living in the South, but I’ve always wanted to see what it was like,” said Nakano. “Graduate school seemed like a great opportunity to experience a different part of the country.”
Nakano first set foot on Duke’s campus for the MPP Open House held each April for admitted MPP students.
“Duke seemed like a great fit for me,” Nakano said. “The people were wonderful, and I liked the sense of the campus. I knew that Duke had a strong research environment and great athletics. I also saw there was a progressive community surrounding Duke.”
As a gay male and LGBT activist, a welcoming environment in Durham was important to Nakano. One of his incentives for attending graduate school is to help fulfill the need for more LGBT leaders.
After he moved to Durham to attend the MPP program, Nakano was struck by the wide array of cultural activities in the area. He frequented the local farm-to-fork restaurants, farmer’s markets, free outdoor concerts and nearby museums.
“I also had the chance to go on hikes, to visit the Outer Banks and spend time in Charleston, S.C.” said Nakano, who developed a taste for two staples of the Southern diet, BBQ and sweet tea. “Being here has allowed me to experience life in the South, and it has really changed how I view this area of the U.S.”
The Size Advantage
Beyond the Southern experience, Nakano sees size as a significant advantage of the MPP program at Sanford and Durham.
“The faculty knows you because of the small class sizes at Sanford,” Nakano said. “You can walk into someone’s office, and they often already have a sense of your background and what you are interested in doing.”
The personal relationships with faculty prove useful not only in learning academic skills but also in developing a career.
“Just one of many examples of this was when I was considering an internship at the Treasury Department. I spoke with Professor Billy Pizer who had worked there. He knew my goals, what my background was and could advise me what the experience would be like. Pizer helped me make an informed decision between several internship offers I had.”
Nakano also noticed a different social scene when attending school in a smaller city. He found it easier to bond with classmates and create lasting relationships.
“Based on my experience, in a large urban environment people find their small group and then turn to the city for entertainment,” Nakano said. “Here in Durham, I developed closer relationships with more people. I knew everybody at Sanford. I hosted Thanksgiving dinner at my house for my classmates all three years - we had a blast!”
Two Degrees from Two Top Schools
After he enrolled in the Sanford School of Public Policy, Nakano decided to take advantage of one of the other strengths of Duke - the Fuqua School of Business. He pursued a joint MPP/MBA, a degree that takes three years to complete.
“I wanted to learn the language of business and management,” Nakano said. “It gave me the chance to go further in depth in the areas of accounting and finance. Fuqua also allowed me to meet even more people from different industries and countries.”
Nakano will make his new home in San Francisco this Fall, starting as a consultant for Accenture.
“Everything you do at Sanford - the curriculum, the practical experiences - prepares you to be a consultant,” explained Nakano. “I did my internship at Accenture, so I know I like the firm. This experience will allow me to apply my skills gained from both Sanford and Fuqua. It will provide great training for the future when I go back to the public sector.”
Nakano’s long-term plans are to run for office or lead a nonprofit that helps the LGBT community.
Hear some advice from him directly in this audio clip, and read his blog post at Fuqua's website.