Closeup of Saichi Oba
Saichi Oba

Saichi Oba is joining the Office of the Provost this month after being named vice provost for enrollment management in November. He was raised in Hawaii and has worked most of the past 30 years in Alaska, most recently as associate vice president for academic and student affairs at the University of Alaska.

Learn more about our newest vice provost in 5 Questions with Saichi Oba:

What should your colleagues at WSU know about you?

“Something I think is pretty unique – President Barack Obama and I were classmates. We were in school together from fifth grade through 12th grade. We played high school football and basketball together and sang in the choir together. I always tell everybody I stopped playing basketball in ninth grade and he stopped playing football in ninth grade, and it’s made a world of difference for both of us.”

Who is your hero?

“It’s my dad. My father raised eight children in Hawaii. He was a teacher, but he had three or four vocations before that. He was a Marine during the Korean Conflict. As he told me, he did everything from digging ditches to teaching young minds. He’s still my hero. He passed away a few years ago, but is still very important to me.”

You’ve spent much of the past 30 years in Alaska. What is your best “Alaska” story (caught in a blizzard, encounter with a bear)?

“I fish on the Copper River during the summer – it’s where Copper River Salmon come from, they’re pretty famous. The way you fish on the Copper River is you use a dip net, a long-handled net, about 10-12 feet with about a 4-foot hoop on the end of it. You have to get the net in the water and you stand on some pretty precarious perches or ledges to do it. One of the first years I was doing it, I fell in. It’s death to fall in the Copper River, but luckily a friend of mine had just given me a mountain climbing rope that he no longer used on mountains. I thought it would save me if I fell in the Copper, and it did. I learned all my lessons on my one fall in the Copper River: Don’t be greedy, make sure you have a backup plan and make sure you come back from whatever you’re out doing in Alaska.”

A high school yearbook page
A page from Saichi Oba’s high school year book showing him (top right) and President Barack Obama (bottom left).

Who is your favorite author, favorite book?

“My favorite author of all time is Stephen King. I like the way he writes. It’s not all about horror and being scared, he’s actually a really good author. But my favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’”

What about WSU appeals to you?

“Real simply, everything I read as I was looking at this position told me that students were front and center. They’re making investments in how to help students succeed. I’ve been associated with three different universities in my time in higher ed and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a major university like Washington State make that the marquee of what they’re after in these upcoming years. I like that investment in students and it matches my own values of why I do what I do.”