Class of ’23 Baruch Graduate Lelani Pacific-Jack Wins JUSFC Grant and Embarks on a Journey to Japan

Amid the festivity and flying confetti of Tuesday’s Commencement Ceremony at the Barclays Center, one of 2023’s more accomplished graduates was conspicuously missing. Rather than passing the tassel across her mortarboard, Lelani Pacific-Jack, a political science major with a minor in Japanese, was crossing the Pacific. This spring she was awarded the prestigious Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission (JUSFC) grant, which has given her the opportunity to travel to Washington DC, then onto Japan, for the very first time. Pacific-Jack’s journey is a testament to her passion for Japanese culture, her burgeoning interest in international relations, and her estimable dedication to learning the language.

A Brooklyn native and first-generation college student who grew up helping support a single mom and five younger sisters, Pacific-Jack’s interest in Japanese culture started when she discovered Japanese comic books, referred to as manga, after being brought to a bookstore in her neighborhood. She would soon find herself spending hours reading and exploring, inaugurating a lifelong obsession with the world of Japanese storytelling.

“Those adventures and those distinct cultural differences that I read about affected my imagination really deeply,” she said. “I guess I started to realize how much I liked reading about people different from me. I wasn’t really exposed to a lot of diversity when I was really young. For me, It was so interesting to read this combination of fantasy and reality and not be able to tell the difference between the two. I just went completely down the rabbit hole.” 

In high school, Pacific-Jack studied French for four years. However, it was in Baruch College’s growing Japanese Program, housed by the Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature, that she finally had the opportunity to learn Japanese. Pacific-Jack describes learning the language as the hardest thing she has ever done, but despite the difficulties her all-out enthusiasm for the culture has allowed to persevere. In her final semester at Baruch, she completed her fourth Japanese class and is well on her way to advanced proficiency.

A journey to Japan has always been a dream of hers, but the obstacles sometimes seemed insurmountable for someone from her background. “The financial burden and the time commitment required to go to Japan are pretty intense,” she said. However, thanks to the support and guidance of her Professors Shige (CJ) Suzuki and Yukie Yamaguchi-Callahan, whom she refers to as her “sensei,” and Sandy Kupprat of the Starr Career Center, she discovered the JUSFC Summer Institute program, which unites her interests in international relations and her love for Japan. “I applied. I never thought I’d get it. But, I got it.”

The JUSFC Summer Institute, an organization that supports scholarly, cultural, and artistic activities between Japan and the United States, covers all expenses for Pacific-Jack’s trip, including flights, accommodation, and provides a daily stipend. As part of the program, she will have the opportunity to meet experts in Japanese studies and international relations, such as Professor Ian J. Miller, a historian of Japan from Harvard University, and Sheila A. Smith, Japanese policy expert from the Council on Foreign Relations.

But, for Pacific-Jack, this journey to Japan is not just about personal growth and cultural exploration, it’s also about representation and creating opportunities for others. One of the few Black women studying Japanese in her classes, Pacific-Jack is passionate about promoting diversity and inclusivity within the Japanese community.

“I’ve always been the only Black girl in all of my Japanese classes. I do think that promoting diversity is really important, creating that space for other people to appreciate Japanese culture,” she reflected.

“When I started meeting with all the other students who got in I saw that there were a lot of Black women there. And I tell my mom, ‘I don’t know what to say. What do I say?’ Because I’m just so used to being the only one. It’s like, wow, there are other people just like me who are interested in the same thing as me and studying the same exact thing as I am. It was kind of a surreal moment for me. I thought, maybe things can change.”

When asked about her plans after graduation, Pacific-Jack says, “Japan. Just Japan. Going to Japan. That’s always been the end goal. I haven’t even gone yet and I’m already thinking about how I can get back there.”

Zicklin Students Can Now Concentrate in a Weissman Discipline

In a move towards further uniting Baruch College’s two largest schools, and in keeping with President S. David Wu’s recent reflection on the vital importance of the arts and sciences for every educational trajectory, Baruch students who major in a discipline housed by the Zicklin School of Business—whether it be finance, marketing, or real estate—can now complete a liberal arts or sciences concentration at the Weissman School.

This new path for students represents a timely opportunity for them to bring tailor-made combinations of skills onto their resumes and into the workplace. 

One such student is Cindy Espinoza Garcia. A native of Ecuador, Garcia is a first-generation college student who intends to become a Marketing major at Zicklin with a concentration in Graphic Communications in Weissman’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts. “In my senior year of high school, all my friends were applying to college except me; I felt confused and without a purpose,” she said. “I didn’t know what career to study or what to do for the rest of my life. I remember telling my family: ‘I just want to do something that would allow me to help people, do my best, and leave a unique mark on the world.’ By putting these two disciplines together, Garcia feels that she will now be equipped with the skills to bring her purpose to fruition.

With a family background in party planning, Garcia has recently started her own business, Soul and Balloons, which offers bespoke balloon design for events in New York City and the surrounding area. “When I started my business, I knew I needed a good understanding of the principles of marketing, but I also knew I needed to learn more about design from design experts. I got really excited when I heard about the new concentration option. Putting all these different ideas together is really going to help me create a business that feels like mine,” Garcia said. 

Strictly speaking, Baruch has never encouraged its students to focus solely on the humanities or business education. The College’s curriculum has long recognized that for the business innovators of the future, as well its creatives and communicators, leaders that the College is now famous for producing, training in the arts and sciences provides the very bedrock from which they spring. Because of this, every student at Baruch, regardless of their eventual major is educated in Weissman classrooms. 

Now with an official option for Zicklin students to add a Weissman Concentration, the College takes a more forward-facing stance, preparing students to think critically, creatively, and readying them to seize ahold of newly emerging career paths—many of which they themselves will create.

Learn More About Weissman Concentration Requirements