News and Events
Political Agenda: Kimberly Yee
Growing up the daughter of a public school teacher who taught in the poorest neighborhood in the state of Arizona, Kimberly Yee ('96) saw firsthand how important education can be in the lives of children. Yee has fond memories of joining her mother on classroom field trips, but was also profoundly affected by the children she met.
“As I got older, I began to see the difference between what it’s like in a suburban school versus a downtown, urban school. Often times the kids would accidentally call my mother ‘mom’ instead of Mrs. Yee because that was the only kind of support system they had. The experience made Yee appreciate education and passionately drove her to want to make a difference.
Today, Yee is making a difference as California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s deputy cabinet secretary for Education and Consumer Affairs, where she is the point person between the governor’s office and the cabinet secretaries. Yee works closely with Education Secretary Richard Riordan, and State and Consumer Services Agency Secretary Fred Aguiar, formulating policies to present to the governor. Yee’s daily routine constantly changes, and she is often required to juggle several different balls a day. “The hours are challenging,” expressed Yee. “Our priority is to focus our energy on doing good work, to serve the governor the best way we can. And in that we’re serving the state the best way that we can. That energizes me and motivates me throughout the day.”
At the age of 29, Yee has already had an extensive political career. But her appointment with the Schwarzenegger administration came as a surprise. She had just finished five years working in the Arizona state legislature when she was asked to join a private national public affairs consulting firm, Triadvocates LLC.
After only two weeks on the job, Yee received that important phone call. “It was an honor to get a call from Sacramento,” she said. “But I told the principals of the firm, ‘I won’t go if you’re not supportive of this.’ Each of them said, ‘This is an opportunity of a lifetime. You have to go, and we will support you 100 percent.’”
Yee’s career actually began while she was still attending Pepperdine. She credits Pepperdine political science professor, Stan Moore, for leading her down the right path. In her senior year, Professor Moore took Yee’s political science class to Sacramento for a day where they learned about government, met lobbyists, and elected officials. The trip opened her eyes. “At that time I was looking at law school as an option. But I wasn’t sure, because what I was really trying to pursue was the law, not necessarily litigation. Dr. Moore identified that, whereas I couldn’t. Then he suggested I look into applying to the Executive Fellowship Program.”
The goal of the Executive Fellowship Program, which is sponsored by the Center for California Studies and the Office of the Governor, “is to extend knowledge of policy
issues and policy-making, and to prepare future professionals and public leaders through a combination of experiential and academic education.” According to the
Center of California Studies’ Web site, participants in the program gain firsthand experience in many aspects of governmental operations, including policy development and implementation. They also learn how to prepare budgets, how to coordinate among the various executive- branch agencies, and about executive-legislative relations.
Only 18 fellows a year are chosen to participate in this program, and Yee was one of them. She spent her first year out of college as an executive fellow under the Pete Wilson administration, working with former state superintendent, Delaine Eastin at the California Department of Education. The fellowship immediately led to an appointment by former governor Wilson to serve as policy advisor to the State Board of Education. Yee was just twenty-three.
“Our priority is to focus our energy on doing good work, to serve the governor the best way we can ... we’re serving the state the best way that we can. That energizes me and motivates me throughout the day.”
In 1998, Yee moved back to her home state of Arizona and accepted a position at the Arizona Legislature, serving as senior staff to the Senate Committee on Education specializing in “K-12” and higher education issues. Yee is proud of some of the legislation she was able to write during her tenure there. Once, she drafted a senate resolution to honor teachers. All these experiences, she explained, have led her to her position today.
On working with Governor Schwarzenegger, Yee noted, “It’s very exciting to see someone you’ve seen on the big screen sitting right next to you. But when you get to know him and see his mind working, you see he just captures ideas so quickly and is able to come up with the most innovative resolutions to situations. He has rolled out so many wonderful policy recommendations in such a short period of time, and to be a part of that great work is extraordinary.”
Through all this, Yee credits Pepperdine for much of her success. “I can’t say enough about the education I received at Pepperdine and the family I made during my time there. When you’re in college, you don’t know that it is all a preparation period, and
you definitely take what you learn to the work place. It’s a fantastic training ground.”
Yee also likes to promote Pepperdine wherever she goes. “Today, I’m wearing my
blue ‘Pepperdine Ambassador blazer. I still wear it to this day because it’s a part of me. In conversation, even in my bios, I talk about Pepperdine. I even drive it proudly, displaying the Pepperdine alumni license plate holder I have on my car.”
Yee likes to spend the little downtime she gets with family and friends. She has also discovered a talent for making jam. “I love being in Sacramento. There is so
much agriculture here, and you get fresh produce at such a great price. It’s really fun to make jam, and I just give them out as gifts.”
Yee enjoys drawing too. In fact, while at Pepperdine, she was able to write and illustrate her first children’s book called, Kimmy Goes to Kindergarten, about preparing a child to go to school for the first time, and addressing the child’s fears on the first day. Her illustrations have also been included in an academic graduate level book titled, Managing Human Behavior in Public and Nonprofit Organizations.
As Yee’s star continues to rise in the world of politics, she is making a bigger difference, though admitting that she likes to take each day, one step at a time. “I think this job has been more than what I expected. It has been a dream come true.”