Japan-America Society of Washington DC Staff

Ryan Shaffer, President

Ryan Shaffer joined the Japan America Society of Washington DC as President in February of 2019.  He previously served as Director of Programs and Development at the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, where he oversaw integration of programmatic efforts to advance shared interests in U.S. relations with Japan and other NE Asian Partners.  Mr. Shaffer was the founding director of the U.S.-Japan Space Forum and the U.S.-Japan Nuclear Working Group and has produced a variety of publications on the topics.  Prior to joining the Mansfield Foundation, Mr. Shaffer served as a research analyst for the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan.  Mr. Shaffer, who was raised in Portland, Maine, has an MSc in Asian politics from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and a BS in environmental policy from Bates College.  Mr. Shaffer, a proud resident of the District of Columbia, sits on the Board of Directors of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.  Mr. Shaffer also serves on the Board of Directors of the Western Pacific Fellowship Project.
Full Bio

Nancy Marsden, Director of Japan Bowl & Scholarships

Nancy Marsden joined the Japan-America Society of Washington DC in August of 2017 and serves as the Director of the National Japan Bowl – High School Japanese Language Competition. Ms. Marsden also coordinates culture classes, and administers the Tanaka & Green scholarship. Prior to joining JASWDC, Ms. Marsden worked in Tochigi, Japan translating ISO standards for Honda Motor Co., Ltd. for 3 years and teaching English in middle schools for 2 years. While in Japan, she studied Japanese cooking and kimono dressing and won the foreigner division of the All-Japan kimono Yosoi Contest.

Originally from Canada, Ms. Marsden began studying Japanese in grade 5. She continued studying Japanese after moving to the United States in high school, and was a participant in the National Japan Bowl. She received her B.A. in East Asian Studies and Music from The College of William and Mary and her M.A. in Ethnomusicology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She also holds a language certificate from Keio University, where she studied abroad for her junior year of college.

Mari Fromel, Administrative & Program Assistant

Mari Fromel joined the Japan-America Society of Washington DC as Administrative & Program Assistant in August of 2020. Born and raised in Chiba, Japan, Ms. Fromel earned her B.A.in British & American Communications from Toyo Gakuen University.

Ms. Fromel brings with her extensive experience, having worked in HR, Accounting and Administration in Japan and Hawaii for over a decade.

In her spare time, she enjoys travelling and surfing.

Olivia Kent, Communications Director, Japan-Representative

Olivia Kent joined the Japan-America Society of Washington DC as Communications Director in October of 2019. In addition to internal and external communications, Ms. Kent manages the Society’s annual US-Japan Capital Gala, Individual & Corporate Membership programs, and assists the President in managing the Board of Trustees. In October, 2021, Ms. Kent assumed the role of Japan-Representative and now works remotely from Tokyo on behalf of the Society.

Ms. Kent brings extensive international experience to the position, having previously worked in education, communications, and sales & marketing roles in Tokyo and Sydney. With a keen interest in Japanese language and cultural affairs, she offers a unique perspective from which to approach communications at the Japan-America Society of Washington DC.

Originally from Australia, Ms. Kent received her B.A. in Japanese Language and Asian Studies from the University of Sydney and most recently completed Japanese language studies at Kobe University, Japan. She has also completed a Chinese Language Summer Program at Peking University, Beijing.

Elece Smith, Program Assistant

Elece Smith joined the Japan-America Society of Washington DC as a Program Assistant in 2021. Ms. Smith was born and raised in Bowie, Maryland where her interest in Japan piqued at her local library when she began reading the magical girl manga Tokyo Mew Mew in the 4th grade. In high school she began studying Japanese and participating in the National Japan Bowl and Japanese National Honor Society. She went on to receive her B.A. in Japanese and Anthropology in 2020 from the University of Maryland, and in 2019 she studied abroad at Waseda University where she earned a Japanese Language Program Certificate.

Ms. Smith brings an eclectic array of educational programming, communications, and customer service experience to the Society alongside her deep interest in Japanese language and cultural affairs. Prior to joining the Society, she worked as a Social Media Coordinator and Student Coordinator at the University of Maryland Honors College, freelance entertainment writer for Diamondback News, and as a Library Circulation and Information Assistant in several library systems across the DC Metropolitan Area.  She previously worked with JASWDC as a Sakura Matsuri volunteer and as a Japan Bowl intern.

Ms. Smith loves books, stationery, and Japanese indie music and is currently trying to learn how to do sashiko, a Japanese embroidery technique often used for visible mending.

Colette H. Fozard, Sakura Matsuri Event Coordinator

Colette H. Fozard has been working with the Sakura Matsuri in an Operations Manager role since 2012, volunteering since 2006. She came to her career as an independent event planner from over 20 years of volunteering for genre and literary conventions.


Interns, Volunteers, & Seasonal Staff

Maddie Trainor, Sakura Matsuri Festival Assistant

Maddie is a rising undergraduate senior at Towson University, majoring in International Studies with a double-minor in Political Science and Environmental Studies. Despite having only begun her study of the Japanese language in college, Maddie has developed a deep appreciation and passion for Japanese culture and linguistics. In the years to come, Maddie intends to work closely with the Japanese Language School (JSL) in the hopes of successfully passing the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and using her skill in the field of foreign service. She is very much looking forward to working closely with staff, vendors, and multi-cultural collaborators during her time with the JASWDC. In her free time, Maddie enjoys playing video games with her friends, gardening, and exploring international cuisine.

Helen Zhu, PR & Communications Coordinator (Intern)

Helen Zhu is a business student at George Washington University, majoring in a Bachelor of Science with a concentration on Marketing Strategy & Analytics and a minor in Japanese languages & literature. Helen is fluent in English, Mandarin, and has intermediate spoken efficiency in Japanese. She has a great passion for traditional Japanese culture, Japanese cuisine, and the Japanese artisanal spirit of pursuing the utmost detail and perfection. In her down time, Helen enjoys reading fictional and historical based literature, watching Japanese dramas, and traveling. Ms. Zhu is optimistic and open-minded, and loves to explore the unknown, collaborate with others, and learn new things through the process!

Steven Qi, Sakura Matsuri Volunteer Coordinator (Intern)

Steven is a current Sophomore at the George Washington University majoring in Business Administration with concentrations in Finance and International Business and a minor in International Relations.

Coming from a family that share both Chinese and Japanese roots, Mr. Qi is relentlessly searching for the next hidden ramen spot or dim sum restaurant. He is a team-player, decisive, and analytical and strongly believes in the collective power of globalization and International cooperation within the sphere of mutual respect. As a student and an aspiring professional, Mr. Qi values experiences, human connections, and constructive criticisms. In his spare time, he likes to unwind and play some classical Chopin pieces, practice ballroom dancing, or sit down a grab a good read/watch a good movie. He is also an amateur photographer, cook, and tennis enthusiast.

Jihng-Lun Lin, Japan Bowl Assistant (Intern)

Jihng-Lun Lin is a senior at the University of Maryland, College Park studying Japanese, and Government and Politics with concentration in International Relations.

Having lived and studied in both the U.S. and Taiwan, he has gained an interest in understanding the workings of foreign policy and affairs. He is also passionate about learning Japanese, with a particular interest in the art of translation. He is very excited to be part of the Japan Bowl this year and looks forward to assist in preparing for the next Japan Bowl. In his free time, he likes to read and listen to his own Japanese books and music. 

Reo Ogawa, Sakura Matsuri Coordinator (Intern)

Reo Ogawa is an undergraduate student studying Economics at Chuo University(Economics), and is currently studying International Business at San Francisco State University.

Reo is interested in cultural exchange because he likes to see how happy people are when they experience Japanese culture.

His favorite foods are eel and sea urchin. In his free time, Reo enjoys going to specialty eel restaurants in Tokyo by himself and enjoying eel and Japanese sake.

Matthew Evans, Sakura Matsuri Volunteer Coordinator (Intern)

Matthew is currently a sophomore at American University majoring in Global International Relations with a focus on US-Japan Relations and a minor in Japanese Language. He is also part of a special joint-degree program called the Sakura Scholars, where he will study abroad at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan for two years. He also works on the Employer Relations Team at American University’s Career Center.

Originally from San Diego, California, Mr. Evans is still struggling to get used to the cold weather and snow in DC. However, he persists nonetheless, with a goal of working in foreign service after college. When he has free time, you can find Matthew listening to musical legends (namely Mariah, Whitney, Shakira and Ariana), playing Nintendo games, hanging out with friends, exploring DC, expanding his cultural palette, and being spontaneous. If you ever have the pleasure of meeting him, there is a pretty good chance he’ll take you to eat at Arepa Zone, being the proud Colombian he is.

Aeris Golden-Thompson, Japan Bowl Assistant (Intern)

Aeris Golden-Thompson is an incoming freshman at International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan, who hopes to major in Media, Communication and Culture. They are specifically interested in Translation and Interpretation for their future career goals.

Aeris has been passionately studying Japanese for six years. Even when it wasn’t offered in their area (North Florida), they went so far as to take online classes until they relocated to the DC area and joined the afterschool program Japanese Plus. Their interest in Japan only grew from there, and they have attended various exchanges with Japanese students and participated in many Japanese cultural events since then.

Outside of Aeris’ ventures in Japanese culture and language, you can find them reading Chinese webnovels, creating art, and dabbling in fashion and makeup.

Stella Chiou, Japan Bowl Assistant (Intern)

Stella is currently a sophomore at Northern Virginia Community College majoring in International Studies and plans to transfer to University of Virginia in Fall 2022 to continue her study of Japanese.

In the future, she hopes to work as a translator for English and East Asian languages, bridging these two different sides of the world through culture and language. She believes that allowing people from different cultures to learn about each other is the best way to establish mutual understanding and global togetherness.

As a former participant of Japan Bowl, Stella looks forward to working with JASWDC to support the program that encouraged her to broaden her studies in Japanese language and culture. In her free time, Stella likes to draw, bake, and play video games. 

Savannah Williams, PR & Communications Coordinator (Intern)

Savannah joined the Japan-America Society of Washington DC as a PR &
Communications Coordinator Intern in January 2022. Based in Tokyo, she
has resided in Japan for three years and was a previous JET Programme
participant (Numazu, Shizuoka’20). Savannah works in education and has
previous experience in social science research, and working in
non-profit organizations.

Originally from New York, Savannah received her BA in International
Relations with minors in Asian Studies and Art History from SUNY
Geneseo. She has also studied Mandarin Chinese extensively and studied
abroad in Taiwan and China. She is currently continuing her Japanese
studies and hopes to improve her language ability.

In her free time, she likes to shoot film photography, see art
exhibitions around Tokyo, and design photobooks.

Will Heltzel, PR & Communications Coordinator (Intern)

Will Heltzel joined JASWDC as a PR & Communications Intern in 2022.

Hailing from Warrenton, Virginia, Will is currently a senior in his last semester at Virginia Tech, majoring in International Relations and French. He also studies Japanese and German.

Will loves studying foreign languages and traveling, and was lucky enough to study abroad and intern in France and Germany in 2021. He is very excited to learn more about Japanese culture and language through his internship at the Society.

Amanda Collado-Mesa, Japanese Language School Coordinator (Intern) 

Amanda is currently a Sophomore at The George Washington University’s Elliott School majoring in International Affairs with a concentration in Conflict Resolution and a minor in Japanese Language and Literature.

She is originally from Miami Beach, Florida and has close ties to her Cuban heritage. She speaks fluent English, Spanish, and is continuing her studies in Japanese to be able to teach English for the Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET) Program once she graduates from GW. Amanda is also interested in Criminal Law and hopes to go to law school after she lives in Japan. In her free time, she organizes events and fundraisers for GW’s Dear Asian Youth chapter and Japanese Cultural Association.  

Jay Rubio, Japan-in-a-Suitcase Coordinator (Intern)

Jay is a junior at the University of Maryland, College Park majoring in government and politics with an international relations concentration.

She is a native Spanish and English speaker who loves to study foreign languages.

Jay has experience learning Japanese, Mandarin, and Korean. In the future, she would like to work in the Department of State as a study abroad program manager. After studying abroad to Fukuoka, Japan in 2019 for three weeks, Jay gained a passion for encouraging others to study abroad or learn a language. She hopes to study abroad again sometime soon and share her experiences with others abroad and in the US.

In her free time, Jay loves to read foreign comics and novels, play online games, listen to music, and spend time with her family and cat.

JASWDC Mascot

Sakura Usagi (Sakura-chan)

A special rabbit from birth, Sakura was always able to detect the seasonal changes on Earth, even from her home, The Moon. The blossoms reminded her of the astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, who had come from the United States and landed on the moon when she was just young rabbit. Since then, Ms. Usagi had always wanted to visit the United States. In 2018,  Ms. Usagi, who is fluent in Japanese, English, and alien rabbit language, was hired by JASWDC as the new mascot for the Sakura Matsuri – Japanese Street Festival. Her goal? To “celebrate the sakura (cherry blossoms) and be in beautiful Washington, DC at the same time.” Now, Sakura – who changed her name to Sakura Usagi, or Sakura-chan, for the festival – is working hard to bring Japanese culture to Washington, DC.