Sue Sherbrooke receives Honors Alumni Award

April 13, 2020

Sue Sherbrooke receives Honors Alumni Award

Sherbrooke on a photo trip in Morocco in 2017, sunrise in the sand dunes near Mergouza

In recognition of her tremendous care for society and positive  impact on the lives of women and children throughout her long career both at the YWCA and her own volunteerism, we are proud to name Sue Sherbrooke as our 2020 University of Washington Distinguished Honors Alumna

Learning from experience

Sue Sherbrooke came to the University of Washington in 1971 to pursue a degree in journalism. “I earned money for college working for small weekly and daily papers in northeastern Washington,” she says. I ended up broadening my focus to a double major in communications and history with Honors. I firmly believe that these liberal arts studies provided an excellent foundation for everything I’ve done in my professional and volunteer life.” 

After earning her bachelor’s degree in communications and history (w/Honors), she moved to Boston with her fiancee (and fellow Husky), Alan Sherbrooke (now husband of 44 years). Sue Sherbrooke launched her professional career in the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities Consumer Division, overseeing consumer complaint administrative hearings, while Alan Sherbrooke was earning his law degree at Harvard. 

The couple soon returned to Seattle where Sherbrooke came to the realization that her early success in the finance industry didn’t spell fulfillment. After five years as a loan officer and branch manager for a locally-owned bank, she took a risk and made a change. “Much as I enjoyed my customers, I wanted a career that was more closely aligned with my values,” she explains. So she took a job at the King and Snohomish County YWCA in 1984.

The business of empowerment

Sue Sherbrooke in a cap and gown in front of Suzzalo Library
Sherbrooke in 1999, celebrating her Masters in Public Administration from the Evans School

Nearly all of the people served by the YWCA qualify as low income, and six out of ten are women of color. Sherbrooke joined the YWCA as finance director, continuously adding both responsibilities and scope to her position in line with the organization’s growth. While working, Sherbrooke earned her Master of Public Administration from the UW Evans School in 1999, which, she says “helped me develop an analytical framework to complement the practical experience I was gaining at the YWCA.” 

In 2004, in recognition of her leadership and dedication to the mission, the board appointed her CEO with a mandate to expand the YWCA’s advocacy work and enlarge its housing program. In the midst of the Great Recession, Sue and her team managed a successful capital campaign that doubled the capacity of the YWCA, adding more than 900 units of affordable housing to the organization’s portfolio. 

“We’re in the empowerment business,” she explained in a 2013 interview with King 5 News anchor, Jean Enersen. “I have really come to understand and embrace the connection between the direct service work we do and advocacy for the women we serve.” Expanding housing options for women, she notes, goes hand in hand with breaking down barriers of race, gender and class. 

Showing up, showing faith

Sherbrooke attributes much of her activism to the principles of her Methodist faith. She explains that her commitment to “doing good” spans all aspects of her life, because faith makes opportunities to help “heal the world” compelling. She was first elected to lay leadership in the global United Methodist Church in 1992, and has actively contributed to her denomination’s advocacy, finances and communications throughout her lifetime. 

Sherbrooke’s positive impact has reached beyond her congregation and the families served by the YWCA. People who work with Sue in any capacity count themselves lucky. For instance, former state supreme court justice Bobbe Bridge formed the nonprofit Center for Child & Youth Justice (CCYJ) to reform Washington’s juvenile justice and welfare systems and honor the potential of all children in our region. Bridge expressed deep admiration for Sherbrooke,whom she has known for 35 years,saying: “Sue is smart, of course, but she is also wise. I have benefited so many times over the years from her sage advice—advice that is well thought-out, relates directly to addressing the issue/problem, and resonates with values of fairness, kindness, and honesty. She is a woman of faith who knows that faith is best expressed in action. I am always inspired and re-charged by Sue’s reality-based optimism.”

Sherbrooke joined Justice Bridge as a member of UW’s Honors Program Advisory Board in 2015, where she has contributed to initiatives like the Global Challenges series, cultural outings and equity of access. 

Nisha Nariya earned her B.A. in finance and economics at UW with College Honors in 2011. She now works with Sherbrooke on the Honors Advisory Board’s equity and diversity workgroup. “Sue is eager to help, makes herself available and is fully present,” Nariya says. “She also leads by example. After spearheading the creation of the Honors Equity Scholarship fund, Sue was among the first to make a personally meaningful gift to the cause.”

Investing in future leaders

Sherbrooke partnered with Nariya and Honors Program Associate Director Juliana Villegas to establish the Honors Equity scholarship for incoming UW Honors students because, as she explained: “Money IS access.” This award reflects the program’s community values while helping students make it through college on their own terms. The scholarships are supported by private gifts (like Sue’s) and students receive them as cash at the start of the academic year. Trusting students with their own decisions, the money can be applied towards rent, groceries, books, tuition, or whatever else the student needs to reach their goals.

Regarding her volunteer work in the UW Honors community, Sherbrooke says she’s gotten the most from her interactions with current students. She’s hosted several discussions over the past few years, including visits to Honors 496, an outing to Civic Cocktails, and a Race & Equity salon at her home, where students and alumni discussed personal understandings of the experiences and issues. This evening built on a larger Global Challenges event exploring notions of human rights in our culture. “These students are very inspiring to me,” Sherbrooke explains, “and they ask great questions.”

When invited to offer advice to current college students, she takes a moment to consider. “It’s hard to say because without knowing someone. I can’t tell what they already understand or might need to hear. But, overall, I would want them to trust themselves more. I want them to know they can make the world better and that it will never be perfect. There’s no such thing! Don’t try to be perfect. Just do what you believe is right, recognize that it is okay to change your mind, and don’t be afraid to learn by noticing what you would do differently, next time.”


About UW’s Distinguished Honors Alumni Awards

Sue Sherbrooke taking photos on a snowy trip to Yellowstone
2020 awardee, Sue Sherbrooke exploring Yellowstone National Park

Established in 2016, these awards celebrate UW Honors graduates who have made significant contributions to society while engaged in interdisciplinary thinking and practices. Distinguished Honors Alumni inspire students to excel in their chosen fields as they embody broader lifelong community values like service leadership, citizenship and drive to make a difference. Previous awardees include former UW Provost Gerald Baldasty, Justice Bobbe Bridge, Noah Purcell and Katelin Chow.