Ken Kaoru Nakamura

Distinguished educator, practitioner, and intercultural bridge-builder who has promoted social change

Ken Kaoru Nakamura is an expert consensus-builder who forges cross-cultural collaborations that enrich the work and lives of service providers and beneficiaries alike. A distinguished educator and practitioner, he has worked diligently in several California communities throughout the state to promote social change and develop the social work profession.

In 1983, Nakamura earned an MSW and Pupil Personnel Services Credential (PPSC) from UC Berkeley and began his social work practice in the Bay Area developing and providing mental health services in San Mateo County to children, youth and families in state-recognized, collaborative programs with school districts and the County Office of Education.

From 1991 to 2008, Nakamura served and shaped the Department of Social Work at Humboldt State University and was responsible for the development and accreditation of its MSW program. To build the program, he forged new partnerships and field instruction arrangements with tribal service offices and individuals, with a goal of alleviating a severe shortage of social workers in rural and Native American communities on California’s north coast. He was a founding commissioner of First Five Humboldt; in that context, he was integral in providing a voice for Tribal and Indigenous communities’ inclusion in the distribution of services funded by the 1998 tobacco tax initiative. When he left in 2008, with the distinction Professor Emeritus, Nakamura had served the university in the fullest range of capacities: as an instructor, director of Field Education, Project Coordinator for the mental health and Title IV-E stipend programs, and as Director.

Nakamura then moved to the San Diego State School of Social Work to serve as Project Coordinator and Field Coordinator of their Title IV-E Program.  Known for fostering independent and innovative thinking in his students, he mentored some of them to present with him at a national Title IV-E roundtable.

As a member of numerous collaborative boards and commissions, with a particular emphasis on community health and wellness, poverty reduction and prosperity promotion, and inclusive participation and decision-making of diverse communities, Nakamura’s work has been dedicated to socially just, participatory action-oriented efforts in public service.

Nakamura received the Outstanding Faculty Award in 2001 from the Humboldt State University’s Student Disability Resource Center and was named Alumnus of the Year by UCB’s School of Social Welfare in 2006. He has been honored twice by NASW-CA as Social Worker of the Year; first, in 2001 by North Coast – San Francisco to Humboldt’s, Region A and in 2014 by San Diego and Imperial Valley’s Region E.

Throughout his exemplary career as a social worker passionate about child welfare, social justice, and innovative thinking regarding the expansion of the role of social work practice, Nakamura has worked extensively with students and community partners to build the next generation of social work practitioners.