White House Wunderkind
An earthquake during a study abroad trip led Erik Jacobs, CLA ’13, from Tokyo, Japan, to the Trump administration in Washington, D.C., proving that unexpected events can lead to unexpected connections.
Dipping his toes into politics
The 9.1 magnitude Tohoku earthquake in 2011 was the strongest ever to strike Japan and fourth most powerful worldwide, killing nearly 20,000 people. It's aftermath remains a defining moment for Jacobs.
Amid the destruction, Jacobs figured out his future.
He realized he wanted to pursue public service on an international stage, and eventually landed in the White House, where he has held numerous roles in the Trump administration, primarily as a policy advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. In July, he moved to a role as policy coordinator for the Department of Energy.
Jetting off to Japan
In many ways Tokyo was a crossroads for Jacobs. Growing up in a small town, he dreamed of playing big time college football. But a walk-on stint with the Owls ultimately fell through after a year.
“It turned out to be the best thing that never happened to me,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs had discussed his other passion—politics—with Ruth Ost, senior director of Temple’s Honors Program, who nudged him toward an elections course. That’s where Jacobs found his calling and he went on to internships with state government officials, including Senator Pat Toomey.
Ost followed up with a second fruitful recommendation: to study abroad at Temple University Japan and take his skills to the next level.
“I made connections that I’m still in touch with. It shows the power and breadth of Temple alumni,” Jacobs shared.
Back to his U.S. roots
Upon his return to the U.S., Jacobs began taking Japanese courses. After graduating from Temple, he went back to Japan to teach English in public school. Sensing a tectonic shift approaching in 2016, he returned home in anticipation of President Donald Trump’s victory.
He began a master’s in Asian Studies at Georgetown University, which he obtained in 2018.
In 2017, he secured a prestigious White House internship and was hired upon completion. His duties ranged from external communications to traveling around the world as a member of the president and vice president’s advance teams.
But it was on day one that Jacobs felt most proud.
“The first day that I walked into the White House as staff was very special,” he said. “It made me think about the long nights that I was studying Japanese, the support from my family and the hard work that I put into school to get to a moment like that.”
—By Kyle Bagenstose, KLN ’11, and Samara Grossel, KLN ’17