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Our Leadership

Our Leadership


Executive Director

Carson Tavenner

 Carson Tavenner (泰卡森)is a member of the National Committee for US-China Relations and a retired US Air Force officer with thirteen years of experience serving the Pacific Command.  His association with China began much earlier, in 1986, when he  initiated one of the early sister-school relationships in Washington State, between Puyallup High School  and Nankai Middle School in Chongqing.  He is a 1991 graduate of the US Air Force Academy and a 2000  graduate of the University of Washington’s Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies Masters  program. Among many accomplishments, he taught world and East Asian history at the U.S. Air Force Academy, teaches leadership and teamwork in China through outdoor leadership programs, and is the Director of 爱世界 (Love the World), a non-profit bringing leadership and English training to needy Chinese communities.

Director of Operations

Heather Pierce

Heather Pierce

Heather Pierce brings her project management experience evaluating international regulatory frameworks in China to bear on The Tai Initiative’s daily and annual operational requirements.  She was a 2015 Pacific Northwest Regional Fellow for the Environmental Leadership Program, in which she now serves as a Senior Fellow.  Her interest in China began when she realized the potential for global environmental action to progress with Chinese interests involved and dedicated.  She is a 2013 graduate of the Washington State University Masters of Public Affairs program with  an environmental policy concentration.

Director of Research

Benjamin Leffel 

Ben LeffelBenjamin Leffel is an expert in Sino-U.S. subnational commercial and intergovernmental relations and previously served as a research consultant for the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) China Center. He is pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of California, Irvine, where he is advancing research on subnational U.S.-China relations. He earned his Masters in International Affairs from American University’s School of International  Service and has produced many studies on American city and state-level engagement and interaction with  China on export, investment, technology, people-to-people, and city-to-city cooperative exchange issues.

The Team

We rely on the essential work of wonderful colleagues to communicate our messages effectively.  Their tremendous assistance helps us educate both Americans and Chinese on cooperation, character-based leadership, and trust.

If you are interested in applying to join the team, please see our open job positions.

Adam Khan, Publications Team Lead

Adam is an undergraduate student at the University of Washington, earning his International Studies degree from the Jackson School of International Studies.  He recently completed a semester abroad at the University of Oxford and has interned at the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR), where he gained skills and experience in publications management.  He also manifests his interest in international student issues by serving on the student board of the Foundation for International Understanding Through Students (FIUTS).  Adam is serving The Tai Initiative by coordinating, planning and producing content across our multiple publication channels.

Jessica Collins, Newsletter Editor

Jessica is an undergraduate student at the University of Washington, earning her degree in International Studies from the Jackson School of International Studies.  She is also minoring in Mandarin and Global Health.   After recently returning from a semester abroad in Kunming, China, Jessica is keeping her passion for US China relations alive by working as our newsletter editor.  Jessica has experience in non-profit work.  In 2012, she led fundraisers to raise money for schools in rural Guanxi, China.  The fundraiser earned over $10,000 for school supplies, which she personally delivered to more than 10 primary schools.  Jessica has a strong passion and interest in cohesive relations betwee.

Jennifer Charoni, Podcast Program Manager

Jennifer is a recent graduate of the University of Washington, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies and Human Rights from the Jackson School, where she focused on human rights and immigration. She recently returned from studying in Guatemala and interning in New York City, where she began working with nonprofits. She will continue in this vein back home in Seattle, working with homeless, immigrant and refugee populations. While in school, she also pursued journalism, and is excited to begin working  with The Tai Initiative to explore and become creative in her favorite form of media: the podcast.

Maria Lee, Website and Social Media Editor

Maria Lee is an undergraduate student at the University of California, Irvine, earning her degree in International Studies with a minor in Accounting. She will be graduating in June of this year. Maria is also a member of Sigma Kappa Sorority at UC Irvine. Maria discovered the Tai Initiative while looking for internships involved with international relations, and the Tai Initiative stood out because it was an opportunity for her to find out more history behind US and China’s relationship.  Maria is serving the Tai Initiative by keeping the website and social media up to date with new information involving US-China relations.


Jade Lam, Newsletter Editor

Jade Lam is an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, earning her degree in International Studies with a focus on international organizations. In the past Jade has worked with many non-profit organizations, but the Tai Initiative caught her eye when she wanted to learn more about US and China relationships because of her Chinese background. With a love for traveling and learning about different cultures, Jade is diving into understanding more about US-China relations by working as our newsletter editor. Jade is excited to be an intern for the Tai Initiative.


Shutong Yang, Tai Lun Tan Editor

Shutong Yang is an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, earning her degree in International Studies. She has many experiences in Chinese government projects between the US and China. One of her projects involved the Chinese government appointing  a few state-owned businesses to interact with US and Mexico’s governments. This interaction was used to import solar panels into these two countries. Shutong was one of the representatives for the Chinese government who was in charge of negotiating with the two countries for the project.


Board of Directors

ann schodde squareAnn Schodde

Ann Schodde has held leadership positions in higher education and international non-profit organizations for over 30 years. In 2007, Schodde was the first President of the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy and currently serves as Senior Advisor. She has consulted or managed programs for more than 21 private foundations, professional associations, and government agencies including the Stanley Foundation, World Food Prize Foundation, National Council for International Visitors, Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, and USAID. She has directed educational exchange and technical assistance programs throughout the world.  She has worked with embassy staff from over 60 countries and garnered financial support from the U.S. government and the private sector including the Johnson Foundation, Coca Cola Foundation, American Express, Gallup, and VISA. She is a frequent speaker and consultant for international organizations throughout the world. Schodde holds a B.A. degree from the University of Wisconsin and M.Ed. from Cornell University.

Greg Waldrop squareGreg Waldrop

Greg is the secretary of the board for The Tai Initiative.  He is a legal services consultant based out of Atlanta, Georgia, where he edits promotional and sales training tools for pharmaceutical training products of the Dezan Group and other independent clients.  Greg received his Doctor of Law (JD) from the Georgia State University College of Law in 2012, earned his Master of Arts in International Studies with a China focus from the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies in 2000, and attended SAIS’ Hopkins-Nanjing program in 1996.

Derek Linden squareDerek Linden

Derek is the President and Chief Technical Officer of X5 Systems, Inc. of Mountain View, California.  He has over 20 years of advanced electronics engineering experience, particularly in the field of antenna design.  A 1991 graduate of the US Air Force Academy and a 1997 PhD graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Derek has nine years of military officer experience during which he became Chief of the Advanced Aerospace Technology Branch for the Office of Research under the Secretary of the Air Force in Washington, D.C.




Board of Advisors

Zhou Baolin, Chief Mentor, Beijing Exploration Cultural Development Holding Co. Ltd.; Co-Founder, China Green Marathon Action Consortium

Donald A. Bishop, Minister-Counselor, U.S. State Department Senior Foreign Service (Ret.); Board of Directors and Immediate Past President, Public Diplomacy Council

Larry Donnithorne, COL, US Army (Ret.): President Emeritus and Professor of Leadership and Ethics, Colorado Christian University; Author, “The West Point Way of Leadership”

Grace Guo, Strategic Consultant for Outbound Programs, The China Partnership of Greater Philadelphia

William Wild, Mayor of the City of Westland, Michigan


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