Portrait of Zenji Nakazawa ’89

Zenji Nakazawa ’89, Economics and Japanese Studies

June 25, 2019

It's not just passion alone that can solve problems. You have to really know how the system works.

Zenji Nakazawa '89 serves the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as legal adviser to the FCC chairman on public safety, homeland security, consumer protection and enforcement issues. The son of an immigrant doctor who served poor and indigent patients in inner-city Baltimore, Nakazawa came to Bucknell with an interest in public service, majoring in economics with a concentration in Japanese studies. He credits professors Richard Peterec and Douglas Sturm with helping him identify a career path that would combine two of his key interests.

"Those two were instrumental in harnessing and guiding me, almost as left and right hand, saying 'Hey, you have this passion, this interest in public policy, then you have this quirky side of interest in technology and you don't want to focus on only one of those — so you might want to look at a public-sector job,'" Nakazawa remembers. "They were very tough on me grade-wise, but I learned a lot. It's not just passion alone that can solve problems. You have to really know how the system works."

As a professional in various roles at the FCC, Nakazawa says his career has been shaped by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and by Hurricane Katrina. Both those events revealed gaps and 21st-century challenges for our national communications infrastructure. One of Nakazawa’s proudest contributions has been working with government, industry and local stakeholders in the aftermath of major hurricanes to ensure that telecommunication services are restored quickly. 

Nakazawa has also helped implement policies to promote mobile telephone alert systems that warn people of dangerous storms, wildfires or other disasters. His work makes these systems more effective by improving geographical precision, so that alerts are more accurately directed to intended recipients.

"Some people say it’s a nuisance," Nakazawa says. "Well, fire alarms are nuisances. But if people get an alert, they'll know they need to act. We are now working with communities to make these so targeted that if [a threat] hits the community where you work, live or go to school and you receive an alert on your phone, you can have confidence that it is an alert meant for you. That builds trust."