June 7, 2018 10:55 am

Before she even became a Running Start student at Pierce, Sylvia James was already well acquainted with the college. As an accomplished flautist, she played with the college’s Concert Band as a community member, and felt it was a natural transition to enter into the Running Start program as soon as she could.

She enrolled in the Running Start program during her senior year of high school at only 16 years old, and continued to participate in the college’s music program. Even as she graduated high school and moved on to pursue her bachelor’s degree at Pacific Lutheran University, James continued to participate in the Concert Band as a community member.

“Being a member of the concert band was a fantastic opportunity for me,” she said. “What I always appreciated about the band was the level of musicianship. We were playing a high caliber of music, and it was wonderful to work with so many talented musicians.”

As a first-generation college student, James was unsure how to navigate the university environment and struggled at first. She attended PLU before transferring to the University of Washington for a semester and deciding to come back to Pierce College. “I had been successful in high school, but I lacked the study skills I needed to be successful at a higher level,” she said. “I had difficulty prioritizing my time, especially at only 17 years old. It seemed like the natural choice to come back to Pierce College to learn how to be successful in college.”

She was considering earning a degree in music, and decided to apply for a job in the music department at Pierce College. Part of her job was to manage paperwork, purchase orders and more, to assist the department director, Jere Knudtsen. “After a while, I remember having an honest conversation with Jere about my goals,” she said. “I loved music, but Jere asked if I had ever considered studying business or finance because he said I was good at that type of work.”

James explored the idea further by pursuing a job in the college’s Athletics department. “[Athletics Director] Duncan Stevenson provided so much guidance and mentorship, which was wonderful,” she said.

From there, she applied for a job in facilities, and then the college’s finance department. Today, James serves as Director of Fiscal Services, and is proud to work for the college that helped her in so many ways.

In this role, James is responsible for financial risk assessment and remediation, and also advises college leadership on institutional fiscal policies and planning, management and long-range strategic efforts.

“I truly believe our finance department is so different from other community colleges because most of us went to school here and have worked here for so long,” she said. “The unique thing about our office is that people want to be here, learn new things and grow.”

During her time as director of fiscal services, the college was recognized with the Washington State Auditor’s Stewardship Award. This honor is granted in recognition of a college’s outstanding accomplishment in the stewardship of public resources as it pursues the shared goal of government that works better, costs less and earns greater public trust.

James is especially proud to be named one of this year’s Distinguished Alumni. “I am overwhelmingly filled with gratitude to be named a Distinguished Alum,” she said. “This experience has given me a chance to step back and reflect on the work I’ve done and the accomplishments we’ve made as a department.”