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Willamette welcomes new American Studies Program director

by Jennifer Johnson,

TIUA building

Willamette University is excited to welcome Jo Kozuma as the new director of the American Studies Program at Willamette. 

Jo Kozuma
Jo Kozuma

Kozuma brings a wealth of teaching, language and program development experience to Willamette after spending more than a decade at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

In her most recent role as a director and international education coordinator, she led international student programs for aspiring K-12 teachers at the undergraduate and graduate level. She was also responsible for directing and coordinating teacher development programs, for both international students in China and veteran teachers and school leaders around the world, and overseeing the transition of international students into a local school district or an American college or university.

At Willamette, she is reviving the beloved American Studies Program, which temporarily closed in 2020 due to the pandemic. Hundreds of students from Kawagoe, Japan have deepened their knowledge of English communication skills and culture through the study abroad program, which will resume in January 2023. 

A one-semester program will be held in the spring and a grand opening ceremony will kick off the program’s official start in August, with more than 80 students expected to study that year. Students will learn a new curriculum, participate in Opening Days and other first-year events, and generally become more integrated on campus — both in Salem and in Portland — compared with years past. 

“The most exciting part is having them here on campus,” she said. “It will be the first time many students leave the country to live and study in a different one, and it’s going to be a wonderful experience of exploration and discovery.” 

Kozuma has substantial personal and professional connections to Japan. Born in the country and raised by a family with a mixed Japanese and American heritage, she became fluent in its language and culture. Later, as a visiting faculty member and an English as a Second Language (ESL) educator, Kozuma spent a total of eight years teaching there. In the United States, she taught Japanese in Florida and became immersed in the local culture. “I understand the education process on both sides of the Pacific,” she said. 

Kozuma pursued her interest in Japanese and international studies as a student, too. She earned a B.A. in Asian studies and multinational business operations then an M.A. in multilingual and multicultural education, both at Florida State University. She also studied the linguistic and cultural endeavors of returning Japanese migrants for her dissertation at the University of Florida, where she earned a PhD in curriculum and instruction in 2011. 

Moving across the country from a university of 58,000 students to a small liberal arts setting was a dramatic change for Kozuma, but she found exactly what she was seeking — a community that feels more like a family, one in which faculty know the names of students. 

After a recent trip she’d made to Japan to prepare for next semester, she said she’s excited to rebuild the international connection that Willamette has with the country.  

“There’s a lot of excitement at the student level about the return of the program,” she said. “It’s been a really rewarding experience for students on both sides of the Pacific.” 

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