Finding Your Voice - Empowering You!

October 29, 2018 at 3pm - 7pm
USC Sol Price School of Public Policy (Sacramento), Capital Room


Invest in yourself by spending a few hours learning from Japanese and Japanese American women in leadership, and then working in small groups with expert facilitators in formulating your own empowerment plan. The U.S.-Japan Council’s Regional Women in Leadership program, with funding from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to present a free-of-charge panel discussion, workshop, and reception. Hear from State of California Governor Appointees who lead departments, leaders and experts in higher education, and business women who will share their personal journeys into leadership while taking risks along the way. Expert facilitators will then lead breakout groups towards fashioning personal next steps whether it is choosing a mentor, seeking further training, expressing your ambition or grabbing that next ring. The day will wrap up with a reception with the speakers, facilitators and attendees. College, university students and professionals early in their careers are encouraged to take advantage of this unique opportunity. All are welcome.

Click here to register

For a full schedule, please see the print program here. Please see the flier for the event here.


Communications & Public Affairs Manager
Sacramento State University, College of Continuing Education


Sharon Ito was born in Sacramento, California. She graduated from Sacramento's Hiram Johnson High School in 1978 and later from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications. Ms. Ito was recognized with multiple awards during her career including a "Golden Mike Award" from the Los Angeles Radio-TV News Directors Association for her work during the Los Angeles riots in 1992. She was also recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists (Sacramento chapter) for feature reporting. She was active with the Sacramento chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA).

After working at radio stations KJOY Stockton and KGNR in Sacramento, Ms. Ito began her TV career at KXTV News10 in Sacramento in 1985 as a producer and news reporter. She left in 1990 to join Disney's startup television station KCAL-TV in Los Angeles as a reporter and in 1993 came back home to KRBK-TV/KPWB-TV, now known as KMAX CW 31 in Sacramento. In September 1996, she returned to KXTV as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. In April 2002, Ms. Ito switched spots with weekday morning anchor Alicia Malaby and anchored News10 Good Morning from April 2002 to March 2007 with Dan Elliott. In May 2007 KXTV launched an online project on called Live_Online, with Ms. Ito interviewing newsmakers and interacting with viewers. Ms. Ito retired from broadcast news and left the station on March 25, 2012.

In 2013 Ms. Ito joined Sacramento State University's College of Continuing Education where she works in communications and public affairs.

Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco


Ryosuke Kamono joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1994. Before joining the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco in September 2016, Mr. Kamono served in the Embassy of Japan in Sri Lanka (Colombo) from 1997 to 2000, and in the Embassy of Japan in India (New Delhi) from 2012 to 2016. Mr. Kamono is a graduate of Doshisha University. Born in Osaka, Japan, he is a husband and father of four children.

Government Operations Agency (CalGovOps)


In July 2013, Marybel Batjer was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to serve as the first-ever secretary of CalGovOps. This agency was established as part of Governor Brown’s comprehensive overhaul of state government. Ms. Batjer is responsible for administering state operations, including procurement, real estate, information technology and human resources. From 2003 to 2005, Ms. Batjer served as cabinet secretary and chief policy advisor to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed the activities of the governor’s 13 cabinet secretaries. She has also served as undersecretary of the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency and as chief deputy director of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. During the George H.W. Bush administration, Ms. Batjer was special assistant to the Secretary of the Navy, a position she attained after serving as President Reagan’s special assistant for national security affairs, deputy executive secretary of the National Security Council, and assistant to Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger and Deputy Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci. In addition, Ms. Batjer was director of political planning for the National Women’s Political Caucus. She is the former vice-chair of the State of Nevada’s Colorado River Commission, the past chair of the National Judicial College Board of Trustees, and a current board member of the Nevada Museum of Art, the Desert Research Institute Foundation, and the Nevada Woman’s Fund. Ms. Batjer studied international public policy at Johns Hopkins University and national and international security at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.



Chair, Agricultural Labor Relations Board
Board of Directors, SMUD


Genevieve Shiroma was first elected to the SMUD Board of Directors in November 1998. She represents Ward 4, which includes Curtis Park, Land Park, Greenhaven, Pocket, Walnut Grove and part of Elk Grove. She served as president of the Board in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014. Ms. Shiroma serves on the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, to which she was first appointed by the governor of California in May 1999 and was designated as Chair in January 2017 by Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. Prior to her appointment, she worked for the California Air Resources Board for more than 20 years. During this time she worked on air quality regulations and programs to identify toxic air contaminants and reduce air pollutants from power plants, consumer products, landfills, hazardous waste disposal, pesticide use and other industrial sources. She last served as chief of the Air Quality Measures Branch.

A native of Acampo in San Joaquin County, Shiroma is married and lives in Curtis Park. She volunteers in the community and has served on the boards of the Sierra-Curtis Neighborhood Association, United Way California Capital Region and B Street Theatre. Shiroma currently serves on the Planned Parenthood Mar Monte board and is Co-Chair of the Friends Committee for My Sister's House. She is a senior fellow with the American Leadership Forum, Mountain Valley Chapter. Ms. Shiroma graduated from the University of California, Davis with a bachelor's degree in material science and engineering.

Paper Garden Boutique


Twelve years ago Stephanie Nishikawa-Yee turned in her TV microphone for a set of keys to open a paper crafting business. The Paper Garden Boutique recently celebrated a dozen years in business at the Pavilions shopping center in Sacramento, California.

Stephanie’s passion for fine papers started when she got engaged to her husband Ken. Their wedding guest list bulged to 400 guests and to save money Stephanie handmade each of her thank you cards with a Japanese kimono stamp to highlight her background, and a Chinese double happiness symbol to symbolize her husband's background. Soon her handmade card treasures would be sold at local craft shows and boutiques around the Sacramento Valley. After the birth of their only child Miles, Stephanie ended her career reporting on local stories and began a new chapter in her life as a local business woman creating beautiful handmade invitations and teaching students how to make simple and elegant cards. Stephanie will share her dream of owning a unique paper store and turning that into an entrepreneurial reality.

Director of Administration and External Relations
University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy in Sacramento


Dr. Juliet Lee is the Director of Administration and External Relations at the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy in Sacramento. For the past eight years at USC, Juliet has coordinated policy forums, bringing together faculty researchers and policy makers in Sacramento to further the dialogue on important policy issues. Dr. Lee also provides academic services, networking and professional development opportunities to the Master of Public Administration students based out of the Sacramento campus.

Juliet is dedicated to encouraging under-represented youth into public service through enrichment programs and volunteering on various boards that provide pathways to success for the next generation. As the president of the Sacramento Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA), she hopes to continue to bridge the gap and create a more diverse work force in public service roles. Dr. Lee earned her Bachelor’s in Anthropology from UCLA, Master of Public Administration from the USC Price School, and Doctorate of Education from the USC Rossier School.

Chief Deputy Director
Office of Emergency Services


Lona "Grace" Koch was appointed Chief Deputy Director for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services on April 27, 2017. She provides daily briefings to the Governor’s Office on the status of emergency operations statewide and is responsible for the day-to-day policy development, coordination and supervision of the Office, including all critical infrastructure, grants management and information analysis. Ms. Koch manages the day-to-day activities of the Deputy Directors and ensures continuous coordination of inter-office efforts.

Prior to her appointment, Ms. Koch was the Cal OES deputy director of finance and administration. Beginning in 2013 she served as special advisor at Cal OES beginning in 2013. She also held several positions from 1989 to 2008, including deputy director for preparedness and training, external affairs and response and recovery, program manager, associate information system analyst, emergency service coordinator and analyst. Ms. Koch was chief of the California Department of General Services, Office of Strategic Planning, Policy and Research from 2008 to 2013. She was a technician and analyst at Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant from 1986 to 1988.

Director, Eureka Institute - Performance Improvement, Government Operations Agency
Executive Sponsor, Cal-IPGCA


Prior to joining the Government Operations Agency in January 2015, Ms. Webb’s public service experience includes Chief Risk and Compliance Officer for CalPERS from 2012 to 2014, Director of Policy and Risk Management for Correctional Health Care Services from 2010 to 2012, Deputy Director at the Department of General Services from 2008 to 2009 and Director for the Governor’s Office of the Insurance Advisor from 2006 to 2008. Ms. Webb also held multiple positions with State Farm Insurance from 1986 to 2006, including agency, claims management and legislative affairs. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Women’s Studies from UC Berkeley and a Charter Property & Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) professional designation.


Co-Founder and CEO, ORA Systems, Inc.
Chair, Cal-IPGCA


Rebekah Christensen is the co-founder and CEO of ORA Systems, Inc., and is the chair of the State of California Innovation Playbook for Government Change Agents (Cal-IPGCA). Cal-IPGCA executive leadership includes GovOps, DGS and FTB, plus an advisory of 30 state secretaries, directors and other key state leadership. Currently Cal-IPGCA training teams include 19 different state departments. Ms. Christensen sees the common denominator that unifies her career as a penchant to unleash and accelerate human potential. Beyond Cal-IPGCA, other leadership and innovation programs or efforts led by Ms. Christensen include: LandTech for the Department of Energy and Defense (DOE-DoD), the cultural integration of traditional medicine through the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Traditional Medicine (ICTM) project, the design and enactment of amending language to Mello-Roos to manage funding risk in multi-million dollar site cleanup, and the design of a cooperative solution, with UCSB and CalPoly, that led to integrating competing economies to collaboratively promote tourism on the central coast of California. In 2015, ORA Systems joined Google’s elite innovation team as trainers for the Google Innovation labs in Alameda, Kern and San Joaquin counties. Ms. Christensen and her spouse, Keith Christensen, share a penchant for giving back to the community through historic restoration of two 120 year-old historic homes located in Midtown, Sacramento.

Deputy Director of Business Operations
Department of Water Resources


Katherine S. Kishaba is the Department of Water Resources’s (DWR) Deputy Director of Business Operations. She is a key member of the Executive Team and has executive responsibilities for the Department's financial management, human resources, procurement, business services, facilities management, technology and safety programs. She is the Chair of the Department’s Governance Board. Prior to assuming her current role, Ms. Kishaba served as the Department's Budget Officer and was responsible for the development and administration of DWR's multi-billion dollar budget. Previously, Ms. Kishaba also oversaw all administrative activities of DWR's Bay-Delta Office and worked in the administrative sections of DWR's former Division of Land and Right of Way and Office of Water Education (now the Public Affairs Office). Ms. Kishaba holds both a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Science from the University of California, Berkeley.

Assistant Secretary (retired)
California Health and Human Services Agency


Lorna Fong retired from the State of California in December 2010, after over 33 years of public service. She has served at the staff, supervisor, manager and executive levels during her career at Health Services, Social Services, EDD, ALRB, and at the Health and Human Services Agency. She currently works as a retired annuitant for the State Personnel Board on various projects.

Cal-IPGCA Program Facilitator
ORA Systems, Inc. 


Prior to joining ORA Systems, Steve Kotani held a lifetime career with the State of California. He served as a Manager for The Department of Education for 6 years where his experience included serving as a TQM facilitator, project management and leadership. Mr. Kotani was responsible for implementing the Principal Apportionment Automated System. Mr. Kotani also served as a Manager for Caltrans for 5 years where he was a seasoned facilitator, specializing in Communications and Leadership. There, he directed the formulation and implementation of the Statewide Fleet Equipment Management, and initiated the design and development of the Home Storage Permit System. He received his Bachelor Degree in Accounting from National University and has been active with the Asian Pacific State Employees Association (APSEA) for over twenty years. Mr. Kotani is a past Executive Board member of APSEA and recently completed a two-year term on the Executive Board of the APSEA Foundation.

Chief, Workforce Development Programs and Special Projects Division
California Department of Human Resources


Sarah Gessler has worked in the human resources field in both the public and private sectors for 18 years. She is the Chief of the Workforce Development Programs and Special Projects Division at the California Department of Human Resources (CalHR) which supports state departments with their workforce and succession planning, organizational development, recruitment, and employee development and retention efforts so they can attract, advance, and retain a talented and diverse workforce. In addition to her previous role as the Statewide Workforce Planning and Recruitment Manager at CalHR, she has eleven years of experience in recruitment, examinations, classification, performance management and training with the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. Ms. Gessler is a University of California at Davis graduate and her work experience prior to starting her human resources career includes wildlife education.


Event Coordinators and Supporters

SSM II, Special Programs
State of California, Department of Public Health


Miko Sawamura started her career as a health educator at the University of Southern California (USC) Student Health Services. She taught semester classes to train USC students to volunteer for various health programs, such as advanced first aid, CPR, peer nutrition counseling, alcohol peer counseling and a self-help program. She was also Program Director for the Health Professional Preparation Program at the USC School of Medicine. After graduate school, Ms. Sawamura became the Chief Financial Officer and Director of Administration and Planning for a California statewide long-term care association (nonprofit). She developed and implemented the organization’s strategic plans, including the respective fiscal plans. She also developed and implemented a nonprofit educational subsidiary and a for-profit subsidiary for the organization. Ms. Sawamura has worked for several California state departments, such as Corporations, Managed Care and Health Care Services. She currently works for the Department of Public Health. She also completed the California Health and Human Services Agency Leadership Academy. Ms. Sawamura received her Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from USC in Los Angeles. She then earned her Master’s in Health Services Administration from the George Washington University in Washington, DC. She is an active advocate in her community. She is currently an appointee to the Area 4 Agency on Aging where she has served as Board Chair and Treasurer. She was also an appointee to the Sacramento County Public Health Advisory Board and Human Services Coordinating Council. She was a 2007 Japanese American Leadership Delegation participant and engaged and promoted U.S.-Japan relations. She is also a member of the U.S.-Japan Council headquartered in Washington, DC. Ms. Sawamura also served as the Vice President for General Operations for four years for the National Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization in the U.S. She also served as President of the local Sacramento JACL chapter for six years. She is also a Board member for the Matsuyama-Sacramento-Sister City, Inc. for over 10 years. Lastly, Ms. Sawamura was honored to receive the KVIE-Union Bank Asian Pacific Heritage Local Hero Award.

Director of Executive Education in Sacramento
USC Price School of Public Policy 


In his current capacity, Mr. Danczyk designs, coordinates and presents in leadership and management programs – impacting national, state and local governmental and nonprofit organizations – teaches master-level classes on strategic management, leadership, negotiation and public administration in California and Mexico, and is an executive coach. He co-founded and is the lead architect of

Mr. Danczyk is president-elect of the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA), the leading interdisciplinary public service professional organization. He assumes the presidency of ASPA in March 2019.

A returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Mr. Danczyk earned his PhD from the University of Pittsburgh, focusing on Public and International Affairs; Master of Public Administration from the University of Southern California; BS in education from the Pennsylvania State University; certified executive coach through the International Coaching Federation, trained at the Hudson Institute for Coaching; and holds Harvard University’s Mediating Disputes certification. He and his wife are raising two sons. Mr. Danczyk enjoys landscaping, creating sculptures, painting and bee keeping. 

Leader and Organization Development Consultant, Talent Cultivator, Inclusion Designer, Change Leader


Kori has almost 30 years of organizational development experience. She has a passion toward creating high-performing engaging teams where both leaders and employees are excited to come to work and bring their personal best. She is committed to solving the root cause of problems vs. just fixing the symptoms, and therefore drives toward systemic culture change to increase organizational effectiveness and productivity. She has a collaborative, consultative style and proven track-record to gain high levels of engagement for organization-wide change management programs.

Ms. Peterson Czasnojc has experience working in a variety of industries, including 20+ years at a high tech Fortune 50 company, several years in health care, retail, government and nonprofits. Ms. Peterson Czasnojc holds a Master of Social Work from UCLA and is Prosci Change Management Certified. She is trained in a variety of team styles instruments, including DiSC, 5 Dynamics and StrengthsFinder. Ms. Peterson Czasnojc is a trained coach in the Leadership Practices Inventory.



Miyoko "Miko" Sawamura          Genevieve Shiroma
JALD 2007                               JALD 2011
Co-Chair                                  Co-Chair

Kathleen Webb                         Rebekah Christensen                         Paul Danczyk
    Committee Member                   Committee Member                      Committee Member



            Wendy Abe                                     Kori Peterson Czasnojc
           Director of External Affairs            Leader & Organizational Development
U.S.-Japan Council                                        Consulting