2008 Distinguished Alumni Honorees

Ken Sharp
Chief, Lakewood Fire Department

Lakewood Fire Department Chief Ken Sharp had no interest in college when he graduated from Lakes High School in 1976. But, a chance conversation with a coworker at the Fort Lewis commissary when he was a senior in high school got him interested in firefighting. He began as a volunteer with the Lakewood Fire Department and was ultimately hired on full time. Though he admits his education was sporadic, he earned his associate's degree from Pierce College Fort Steilacoom in 1995. He later went on to earn his bachelor's degree in fire service administration from Eastern Oregon University. Sharp plans to apply to graduate school this year. Continuing his education, first at Pierce College, allowed Sharp to move through the ranks at the fire department. He became the chief of operations in 1999 and was promoted to chief last April. Sharp has also been active in his community and has given his time to such organizations as the Lakewood First Lions Club, the Clover Park Rotary Club, the Boys and Girls Club of Lakewood Advisory Board, and the Bethany Christian Services board.

Denise Thompson
Teacher, Orting High School

Denise Thompson always considered herself a full-time mom, raising two young sons and volunteering perpetually at their school and as a Sunday school teacher at their church. But, when her youngest entered first grade, she knew she wanted more. She had always been interested in science and had considered a career in the medical field when she was in high school. But, Thompson soon heard the call of teaching. She began taking courses at Pierce College Puyallup and ultimately transferred to Pacific Lutheran University, where she double majored in geosciences and education. She earned her bachelor's degree in 2003 and is now working towards her master's degree in organic chemistry. Thompson balances her education with a very demanding career as a math and science teacher at Orting High School. She plans to earn her doctorate and teach at the collegiate level.

Dorothy Wilhelm
TV Host and TNT Columnist

Television host. Professional speaker. Newspaper columnist. There's very little Dorothy Wilhelm hasn't done and much of it started at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom, where she began taking art classes in 1973. Wilhelm was in her late 40s, a mother of six, when her husband, a faculty member at Pierce College, died of cancer in 1981, forcing her to become the primary breadwinner. She went on to earn her bachelor's degree in communications from Marylhurst University in Portland, Ore., a field that led her into a long career in local radio and television. For example, she was the host of "50-50" and the creator and host of "Never Too Late," a Saturday morning variety show that earned her the 1997 National Mature Media Merit Award. Wilhelm is now the creator, producer and host of "My Home Town" on Comcast cable channel 76. She also writes a monthly column in the Tacoma News Tribune newspaper and tours the country for professional speaking engagements.

Vickie Ybarra
Director of Planning & Development, Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic

With no mentors and no scholarship money, Vickie Ybarra wandered around after high school not knowing what she was going to do with her life. She stumbled into Pierce College and was paired up with an academic advisor, a registered nurse, who made Ybarra see the possibility of a career in nursing. She earned a 4.0 at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom and earned a spot in the University of Washington's nursing program. After graduation, she took a new position conducting home visits to expectant and new mothers out of the Yakima Farm Workers Clinic. As the clinic grew into more and more medical and dental sites in Washington and Oregon, Ybarra earned her master's degree in public health and transitioned into administration. She now works as the Director of Planning and Development. She is also the chairwoman of Gov. Chris Gregoire's Interagency Council on Health Disparities and has served six years on the Yakima County School Board, the last three of those as president.

Angelic Young
Acting Director, Department of State Office of Civilian Policy & the Rule of Law

An ambitious student bored by the typical high school curriculum, Angelic Young started her college education at Pierce College Puyallup through the Running Start program. By taking those extra courses early, while still a student at Puyallup High School, Young said she was better able to transition into a successful college career. She went on to Willamette University in Salem, Ore., for her bachelor's degree in political science and women's studies, then to Chicago-Kent College of Law, where she earned her law degree. From there, it was off to Washington, D.C., where Young was part of a prestigious fellowship program that paired her up with federal Department of State. She's been there ever since working in the Office of Civilian Police and the Rule of Law, for which she is now the acting director. Her office manages police, law enforcement, justice issues, corrections, and legal development in foreign countries, often in cooperation with the United Nations.