Our Meet the Team blog series highlights our team, one member at a time. We give you a glimpse into their motivations and approach to working with our partners to achieve better results for communities. Through this feature, we hope that you’ll find a deeper connection to the people and relationships that are central to our work.
Today we’re getting to know Erika Takada, an experienced and sharp senior consultant at Engage R+D.
1. What is your role at Engage R+D?
I am a senior consultant and founding employee at Engage R+D. I see my role as leading and working together with incredibly smart, seasoned and fun colleagues to address issues we truly care about in our communities. I also see my role as deeply engaging with our clients to help them be the best at what they do. I benefit greatly from these opportunities to listen to and learn from my colleagues and clients. If you call me, you will often catch me in my car as I am driving to the East Bay, San Jose, or the Central Valley to meet with clients or facilitate a learning session with community stakeholders. With each project I complete, I become better at my craft. I am lucky to be where I am.
2. What experience do you bring to this work?
It’s hard to believe that I have been at this for almost two decades now! I have always worked in the field of evaluation. I started my work in public health, specifically in the promotion of nutrition and physical activity and the prevention of childhood obesity. That was back before awareness of these issues became so widespread in the general population. I was evaluating social marketing campaigns on physical activity aimed at teens, conducting content analyses to measure changes in public awareness of obesity issues, providing data for policy analyses on issues such as the soda tax and food labeling, and examining reducing risk factors for diabetes through dance with young girls of color. Soon, I turned to consulting and discovered that these evaluation approaches and methods were also applicable to many other areas. These applied and practiced skills provided the foundation for me to dive into new areas, such as my current passion - early care and learning. Consulting has given me the space over the last decade to test and apply creative and innovative ways to collect and work with both qualitative and quantitative data. This includes working with different audiences and stakeholders to communicate, present, and engage with data. It is an exciting journey.
3. How did you discover your passion for evaluation and learning?
Towards the end of graduate school, I was fortunate enough to get a paid internship with San Diego County Public Health to evaluate an HIV prevention peer education program for incarcerated women. It was an eye-opening experience for me, demonstrating how the power of evaluation, data, and learning can positively affect a disenfranchised population. This program was designed to empower female inmates to become peer educators, which was amazing to me at the time. I had the opportunity to design and pilot surveys for peer inmates, collect data, observe trainings and peer education sessions and analyze the data. I loved how this project took me out of the academic research setting and into the field to see how data and evaluation could drive change for an often-forgotten population in a setting people don’t usually associate with learning. The officers and counselors at the correctional facility, and even the county health educator, were amazed by how the inmate peer educators could take information about safe sex and injection drug use and translate it into relatable yet accurate information for their peers with humor and stories. The women were also enthusiastic to participate in the evaluation and provide their feedback on the program. This was a new voice for me to hear and document through evaluation. The results from this program were positive, and I later learned that it was replicated in several other correctional facilities for women. Although this was a classic, straight-forward evaluation, I knew from this early experience that I wanted to do more.
4. What do you love about your job?
There are so many things that I love about my job. People who know me might expect me to say that I LOVE WORKING WITH DATA! But what I really love about my job is the opportunities that I get to facilitate learning and/or teach. I believe that the best way to learn is to share what I know, then ask others for their perspective with lots of questions. I love to help people brainstorm and articulate their vision and to collectively make sense of data. By doing this, I also get to know my clients and their stakeholders in a deeper and very special way. It is always an inspiring experience for me.
5. You’re in the Monterey Bay Area - tell me 3 places I should go if I visit.
Carmel Valley – Many people associate Monterey Bay with beaches and coastlines, but Carmel Valley - just a few miles inland – is sunny and warm with beautiful mountains, meadows, vineyards, and the Carmel River running right through it. There are relaxing tasting rooms that aren’t overrun with tourists, farm stands, galleries, hiking trails and good, uncomplicated restaurants. I come here with my family to escape the fog and relax.
Asilomar State Beach is one of my favorite beaches. The sand is soft and there are amazing tide pools with colorful hermit crabs, sea anemones, and sea stars, among many other creatures. You can watch the whales and dolphins go by on a clear day. From this beach you can take the boardwalk trail in one direction to Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach or in the other direction to the Asilomar Conference Grounds to explore the arts and crafts architecture of Julia Morgan (and have good coffee in the main lodge).
Happy Girl Kitchen is a store and café and a great place to taste and purchase their specialty of jams and pickles. All are made onsite with produce from local farms. They also have a daily changing menu of soups, sandwiches, bowls, and pastries, and they make excellent coffee drinks. I am a regular!