Alumni Spotlight: Lillian Kawasaki ’72, ’80 M.S.

Alumni Spotlight: Lillian Kawasaki ’72, ’80 M.S.

Lillian Kawasaki
Lillian Kawasaki ’72, ’80 M.S.

Lillian Kawasaki’s love of science and, more specifically, nature, has deepened the well of her Los Angeles roots further than she ever dreamed possible.

From laboratory research to the great outdoors, and from environmental justice to water conservation policy-making, Kawasaki has played a significant role in shaping how Los Angelenos interact with and draw upon environmental resources.

“In a nearly 30-year span with the city of L.A., I was involved with most of the major environmental initiatives,” said Kawasaki ’72, ’80 M.S., currently an elected board member of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California, which manages groundwater resources for roughly 4 million people in South Los Angeles County.

“Hopefully, I’ve been able to make a difference in people’s lives,” she added. “The environment, economy and equity are really the basis of sustainable solutions, as I see it.”

Among the highlights of her career—which included stops with The Port of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Environmental Affairs and Community Development departments and the Department of Water and Power (DWP)—were developing the city’s first comprehensive clean air plan and establishing green workforce training programs that helped many young adults establish thriving, successful careers in a growing industry. Kawasaki, the city’s first Asian-American woman department head, had the responsibility to build its Environmental Affairs Department.

“How many people in their lives are able to establish a brand new department that has a broad mission, but  no roadmap,” Kawasaki said. “It was a great opportunity.”

While working as the assistant general manager for environmental affairs at DWP, she was also instrumental in restructuring its solar incentive program, giving customers cash for installing photovoltaic panels. Another impactful program that she helped get off the ground was the Los Angeles River Revitalization Plan. A 20-year blueprint for development and management of the Los Angeles River, the plan includes making 32 miles of the river more natural by adding parks and pathways that invite residents to its shores.

“What has been important to me throughout my career is that we not just design policies, but also take implementing actions,” Kawasaki said.

This could be one reason Kawasaki makes a tangible mark on her community. Her training at Cal State L.A., she adds, also taught her to be “both entrepreneurial and innovative.

“I was encouraged by my professors and the students [her husband, Craig Carter ’75 M.S., being one of them] to not only get a good education, but to take that information and work on results,” she said. “Oftentimes, your ability to make decisions and be creative in coming up with solutions is how you make and sustain positive impacts, and I really think that Cal State L.A. taught me how to do that.”

In gratitude to the University, Kawasaki has remained active with the campus, having served as a board member for the CSULA Foundation and supporting students and programs with annual gifts through CSULA’s President’s Associates.

She also serves on the boards of numerous other nonprofit groups and associations that promote environment and education interests. Among them are the Friends of Manzanar, Carpe Diem West, and the Association of Women in Water, Energy and the Environment.

“As you can see, I am really passionate about two things: the environment and Cal State L.A.”