A passion for excellence
By Dana Chrysler
Everett Community College Alumni Outreach Specialist
Susan Brokaw, EvCC alum and former student body secretary, describes her time at the college in the 1970s as fun and challenging. Building on the foundation she gained through EvCC's rigorous business program, Susan went on to work as a legal assistant and then a paralegal before finally landing in her current position as office manager and public information officer for the Port of Everett. In this interview, she discusses how EvCC contributed to her career path and the rewards of working for the Port.
Where did you graduate from high school?
I graduated from Stanwood High School in 1971.
Did you immediately go on to attend EvCC?
Yes. We had several career days in high school and the various colleges came in with representatives; that's when I first became interested in EvCC. I also had some older friends who were attending EvCC as well, so I knew that it was a good college.
Did you know what you wanted to eventually pursue?
I knew I wanted to be in business administration. I had taken several classes in high school with that in mind. I'm very detail oriented, so it was kind of natural for me.
What kind of business administration career were you pursuing?
Well, I was interested in legal. I interned at the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney's office in the civil division and then I also interned with an attorney.
After I graduated, I went to work at Pacific Grinding Wheel and was the executive secretary to the vice president. I worked there for several years and then married and had three children, so I was out of the work force for about seven years.
Did you have any particular courses, instructors, or mentors that made a particular impression on you while at EvCC?
Oh, absolutely. I graduated from EvCC in 1974, but throughout those two years, Beverley Funk, the lead instructor for the business program, and Miss Van Pevenage, another business instructor, gave me a tremendous foundation in their program. I still take shorthand during phone calls; it comes in handy. [Smiling]
Were you involved in extra-curricular activities?
Yes, I was the student body secretary one year. Rich Haldi was our advisor and it was just fun. Back then, it was small enough that you really got to meet a lot of students. I really had a ball at EvCC.
How would you describe EvCC?
Very progressive. Look at all the programs they have today, it's just wonderful. I think it's absolutely incredible that students can complete their full education at EvCC now.
How did you get into what you're currently doing?
I returned to the work force in 1984, after taking some brush-up courses at EvCC, and I secured a job with a litigation attorney on Capitol Hill. I stayed there for about five years, when he dissolved his business and went to a firm in Seattle. I went to the Seattle firm as well, although their policy dictated that I had to work for another attorney. That's when the traffic congestion really started to heat up in the Seattle area. Mind you, I had three, small kids at home, so I just decided I needed to be in Everett.
In 1989, I took a temporary position at the Anderson Hunter Law Firm and they eventually hired me. I was with their law firm for 10 years. The attorney that I worked with happened to be the Port counsel and he encouraged me to apply for this position when it came open. When I applied for this position in 1999, it was a very small office, and there were more than 70 applicants. But I felt that I would have more opportunity at the Port and it has turned out that way. [Smiling]
You obviously enjoy what you're doing here.
I love it.
How has your position changed since you started in 1999?
Well, I was the only admin person, so I started out as the executive assistant to the executive director and I also supported the elected officials--we have a board of three commissioners. When I was hired, the executive director told me about his vision for the administration and I became very excited: it was going to grow and I could grow with it. That's exactly what has happened.
What was driving his vision?
There was a sea change happening. We were slowly getting out of the log industry and moving into different areas of marine terminal cargoes. Of course, we have the thriving marina, and we have all these properties that we are in the process of developing. We're project-driven because of our mission, which is economic development. It's always exciting to see things evolve. Our terminals are doing very well right now. Because of the economy, the marinas have been lagging a little bit, although we're seeing an uptick there.
We have around 100 people working here and, in the summer, we hire interns and maintenance staff, kids that are going to college and have the summers off. There's plenty for them to do at the marina, so we keep them pretty busy.
Please tell me about your job.
Not only am I the office manager for the Port, but I am also the public information officer, so I manage the entire process of public records. I have two direct reports who report to me and two indirect reports, in administration.
I'm basically the “go to” person here at the Port. I've assumed that responsibility because I work for the executive director and I provide a tremendous amount of support for all of the meetings, the commission meetings, and retreats. I also work directly with our commissioners.
Public records are governed by statutes, so there are a lot of legal areas where we have to stay within strict compliance of the statutes. It's also very deadline-oriented, which, of course, the legal field is as well, so it was a natural fit for me. I thought that I was going to be in the legal field forever, but it turns out that my legal background has been very beneficial to me here, especially in terms of the public records.
The Port has the marina, terminals, properties, and engineering and planning, so I have somebody within each department that I go to in order to obtain responses to the records requests. If you miss those deadlines, you're really putting the Port at risk in terms of litigation. Fortunately, I have never missed a deadline. [Smiling]
I also belong to WAPRO (Washington Association of Public Records Officers), where all the officers across the state get together and have instructional seminars. Right now, I'm currently going for my certified public records officer certification. It's great because it's a venue where I can talk to people about different issues that come up within the public records area. It's a wonderful way to communicate and get good ideas on procedures.
So, you're given the responsibility, and you just take the ball and run with it?
Yes. I've been here many years and my experience just goes hand in hand with the responsibility.
What do you find rewarding about your career?
I can honestly say that there's not one day that I dread going to work. I feel like I have the respect of my peers and I certainly respect them as well. We have a really good team here and that's rewarding to me. That goes throughout the Port, with the maintenance group, our terminals, and the marina—it's really a team atmosphere. I think that's why people choose to stay here.
What about your challenges?
We're very much project-driven and, I think, being a part of all those different projects as we move forward is very challenging. Right now, it's kind of exciting because we just demolished some very old buildings because we have a marina district master plan that is now in place and we're doing environmental clean-ups where the Everett Shipyard facility used to be. We're currently in the clean-up/construction phase. We have to go through this clean-up process, which is mandated by the state, and it takes time. Those are types of challenges.
It's also challenging being a supervisor, but it's very rewarding as well. I've got a great staff; I'm very fortunate.
If you could give the readers your keys to success, what comes to mind?
You have to want to be the best you can be and really work on discipline; you have to want to succeed and like what you do.
What words of advice do you have for current EvCC students?
I would really encourage them to meet with their advisors to know what EvCC offers them. I went to my career advisors, who were absolutely wonderful. They really helped me to find my path. When students first start out, they don't realize all of the resources that are available to them.
I did fairly well in high school, but when I got to EvCC, it was a pride thing; I think it was because of Mrs. Funk and Miss Van Pevenage. They really instilled the idea of pride in their students. I just made up my mind I was going to do the best I could and I really think it was due to them. They made me want to work hard. My time at EvCC gave me an absolutely wonderful foundation on which to build my career and I'm very thankful.