The Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies

Meet the New Executive Officer: Kaori Urayama

Kaori Urayama

CENTERPIECE: Welcome to the Weatherhead Center! Tell us about your new role as the executive officer of The Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies.

Kaori Urayama: The Harvard Academy advances knowledge of the culture, history, and institutions of major world regions and countries through interdisciplinary social science research. Our scholars work on a variety of world regions and are trained in different disciplines, including anthropology, economics, history, political science, and sociology. Our postdoctoral fellowship is one of the most prestigious and competitive in the world and draws several hundred applications every year. I review and screen the applications and steward the entire selection process in coordination with the Academy’s Senior Scholars and our program coordinator, Kathleen Hoover. Throughout the year, I also work closely with our postdoctoral fellows on their author’s conferences, practice job talks, and other academic supports. I have a doctorate degree in political science, so that helps me in advising our scholars on self-directed writing, field work, job searches, and other professional development.

CENTERPIECE: What did you do prior to working at the WCFIA?

Kaori Urayama: Prior to my current position, I worked as the senior program manager at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. I managed the Ash Center’s academic programming and administrative planning for a large annual cohort of visiting scholars, postdocs, and practitioners (around 120).

Before my time at Harvard, I completed my PhD in political science at Boston University, and worked as an independently contracted foreign policy analyst for the Office of Director of National Intelligence. I also gave birth to two boys!

CENTERPIECE: What are some of your other interests, outside of your role as executive officer?

Kaori Urayama: In the last few years, I’ve been actively involved in equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging (EDIB) efforts at Harvard and in my children’s school district. At the Ash Center, I founded a staff identity group to offer advice to the center leadership on EDIB, which led to the establishment of their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) steering committee. 

At the WCFIA, I have been working with staff and student colleagues to set up the EDIB standing committee, which we hope will better promote discussions among students, staff, visiting scholars, and faculty. The WCFIA is a wonderful community of the brightest, most hardworking individuals, and I hope we can work together to place more organizational intentionality around EDIB. Collaborating with students and staff on EDIB efforts makes me hopeful that we can make the WCFIA an even more extraordinary place.

CENTERPIECE: Tell us something that people may not know about you.

Kaori Urayama: I have this secret career plan to become a landscape consultant one day, specializing in garden designs for lazy gardeners who don’t necessarily have green thumbs or the time for meticulous upkeeping (like myself). I occasionally volunteer my time to design easy-maintenance perennial gardens for my neighbors who may be having a hard time or have special needs. Last September, I enjoyed collaborating to organize the WCFIA’s first-ever plant exchange among affiliates, and I hope that will be an annual tradition!

Harvard Academy affiliates listening to speaker present a talk


  1. Photo of Kaori Urayama. Courtesy of Kaori Urayama
  2. Nancy Qian of Northwestern University, and former Academy Scholar AY2007–2009, gives a talk titled “The Rise & Fall of Local Elections in China: Some Lessons about the Role of Elections in a Non-Democracy” at an Academy seminar held on April 11, 2022. Credit: Kaori Urayama