Jennifer Kajiyama Tinkham – Building Leaders Who Build Strong Communities

By: Nicole Boyd


The forced relocation and imprisonment of over 120,000 Japanese Americans during WWII, is a tragic and often overlooked chapter of US history. 


For Jennifer Kajiyama Tinkham, this history is personal. Jennifer’s American-born relatives were given a few days to sell their homes and businesses, at a significant loss. They lost not only property, but their livelihood, and freedom. Families were crammed into tiny uninsulated shacks, surrounded by barbed wire fences, a watchtower, machine guns, and guards. 


After 3 years, Jennifer’s relatives were finally able to return home, but everything had changed. They had to start all over again to rebuild their lives. “The only way forward was a focus on education. They sacrificed so that their children could go to school and have a better life, and a more secure foundation to battle racial injustice,” said Jennifer. She has seen how education empowers and cultivates strong leadership, especially in the legal profession.


Jennifer’s natural ability to lead is evident in many of her accomplishments. She graduated valedictorian from BYU-Hawaii, interned in the U.S. Senate, the Hawaii State Supreme Court, the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office, and the Hawaii State House of Representatives. After serving a mission in Nagoya, Japan, she completed a joint Juris Doctorate and Master of Public Administration degree from Brigham Young University.  


Jennifer is currently a professor at BYU-Hawaii and is the Director of the Legal Studies program and Prelaw Advisor. Her students are a diverse body representing over 78 countries. She sees the power of education in the lives of her students. “Many of my students come from non-traditional backgrounds and are first-generation college students. Some students have never met an attorney and have little exposure to the judicial systems of their home countries,” she explained. “The BYU-Hawaii Legal Studies program helps expand their vision for their future.”


One of the missions of BYU-Hawaii is assisting students from the Asia-Pacific region to gain academic, leadership, and professional skills, enabling them to lead and serve in their home countries. The BYU-Hawaii Legal Studies program plays a strong part in this education. The curriculum includes legal research and writing, international legal drafting and transactions, and comparative law. Upon completion, students are given a certification equivalent to a paralegal certificate in the United States. BYU-Hawaii has also negotiated an agreement with Waikato Law School in New Zealand, crediting graduates of the program a full year of courses and allowing them to practice law in all common law jurisdictions in the Pacific. 


“We have been fortunate to see our graduates secure work in all levels of government, attend law school, or become paralegals,” Jennifer said.


Selected BYU-Hawaii students also travel to Washington D.C. to observe the government in action. They interact with government officials, non-governmental organizations, and ambassadors from many of the student’s home countries. The J. Reuben Clark Law Society members in the D.C. Chapter have been invaluable in making these trips successful. They provide forums, informational interviews, and one-on-one mentoring sessions.


BYU-Hawaii 2017 D.C. Practicum Group


For example, BYU-Hawaii students met with Law Society member Judge Thomas B. Griffith, a former federal judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Judge Griffith has been a consistent mentor to Jennifer over the years. “When I was an undergraduate, I met him when he came to BYU-Hawaii. He later helped me coordinate an internship in D.C. and stayed in touch during law school. Later, when I became a professor, Judge Griffith reminded me of my responsibility to reach out and mentor up-and-coming attorneys.”


The students at BYU-Hawaii are blessed by the overarching tenet of the Law Society’s commitment to service. “BYU-Hawaii students have benefited greatly from the Law Society. The Hawaii Chapter hosts the annual JRCLS Fireside, speaks at university forums, and provides networking opportunities with local judges and attorneys. Law society members inspire students, who otherwise may not have chosen a legal career,” said Jennifer.


A recent graduate of the BYU-Hawaii Legal Studies Program, Siale Hola, is the Tongan Parliament’s Senior Secretariat. As a student, Siale had a strong desire to serve his people of Tonga. He now authors briefing papers about various policy topics, runs committee meetings, and directs public hearings. Recently, the Tongan government appointed Siale to represent Tonga in trade negotiations with China.


Siale Hola Trade Deals with China


Another of Jennifer’s graduates, Timoci Tupua Cirinawasaliwa, was unfairly detained by police during the 2006 Fijian military coup. And so Timoci came to BYU-Hawaii wanting to really understand his government and what he could do to help the Fijian people. Now, Timoci is the Administration Officer for the Fijian Embassy in Washington D.C. He manages the Embassy’s financial budget and handles the business contracts.


Timoci Tupua Cirinawasaliwa Fiji Embassy in DC


Siale and Timoci represent the many BYU-Hawaii students who have graduated from the Legal Studies Program. “I feel very blessed to interact with such hardworking and humble students. Many of them have overcome tremendous odds to attend school and are diligent and ambitious with their education. The Savior gives me this special moment before they go forth to serve and perform miracles in the Lord’s vineyard.” 


Like Jennifer’s family, who sought education as a way to empower and improve life after the war, these BYU-Hawaii students are doing the same. With their legal education, they strive to serve and improve the world.