Behind the Scenes in the Smithsonian Investment Office

August 28, 2018
Amanda Nagy
Kenneth Kitahata
Kenneth Kitahata was a summer intern for the Smithsonian Institution Office of Investments, where he was mentored by Amy Chen '79, right,. Photo credit: Courtesy of Kenneth Kitahata

A summer internship with the Smithsonian Institution Office of Investments has helped third-year Kenneth Kitahata visualize a future in nonprofit finance.

In his position, Kitahata was mentored by Amy Chen ‘79, chief investment officer for the Smithsonian and member of the Oberlin Board of Trustees. Chen’s office manages $1.5 billion in investments for the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex. Kitahata explains that the Smithsonian hires external managers to invest the endowment, and over the summer he helped research and source a prospective fund manager and prepared a report for the staff.

“I also looked into our private equity exposure, which includes startups, and it has been interesting to learn how companies are financed and valued,” says Kitahata, an economics major who completed the Oberlin Business Scholars program last year. “I’m interested in nonprofit finance, and it will be great to carry what I’ve learned this summer to the Impact Investing Platform, which works to make Oberlin’s endowment socially responsible.”

One of the perks of the job is that Kitahata had the opportunity to get a backstage view of the Smithsonian’s museums. “There’s a program called Morning in the Museum where they open up the museums before they open to the public. I’ve found hidden gems like the staff gym in the Air and Space Museum, and I took a tour of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center on the Chesapeake Bay to learn about conservation and the estuary ecosystem.”

While working on heavily data-driven projects, Kitahata says it was easy to get too consumed by details. He enjoys working on projects where he can see the big picture, and it was helpful to remind himself that the Smithsonian endowment is vital to keeping its museums accessible and free to the public. He also feels fortunate to receive the tutelage of Chen, who joined the Smithsonian in 2006.

His credits his experience as a Business Scholar for giving him a foundation in finance technicals, and Oberlin’s Career Development Center in supporting his internship application.

A native of Hilo, Hawaii, Kitahata facilitates a dialogue group with the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and works as a peer advisor in the Career Development Center. He intends to pursue an MBA after Oberlin.

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