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Kendra Wong the Accidental Professor

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Thirty-seven-year-old Kendra Wong sits in her office at Sierra Nevada College, where she has been business department chair since 2013. On the wall behind her a huge chart pasted with fluorescent sticky notes reaches almost from floor to ceiling, and keeps track of 2017’s class schedule through next fall. Two years ago she ran for a seat on the Incline Village General Improvement District (IVGID) board and now serves as board chair. Always one to stay busy, Wong says she vied for the position to keep herself occupied while her husband, Ethan Bolinger, managed Incline’s Wild Alaskan Fish Company, owned by his aunt and uncle. “It’s a great job. It’s talking to our community members and finding out what they need and what they want. I look at it as the ultimate form of community service.”

Wong, who grew up in Roseville and traveled to Sugar Bowl almost every weekend to ski, started her professional career as an auditor with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in San Jose after she graduated from UC Davis in 2001 with a degree in Managerial Economics. She holds a CPA license in California, and earned her MBA at Arizona State University. Even with this highly successful start right out of college, her mind always turned back toward Tahoe and downhill skiing.

How’d you get back to Tahoe after PwC?

I hightailed it back here in 2003. I missed the snow. I worked at Booth Creek Ski Holdings and at the time they had just bought Northstar, Sierra-at-Tahoe, Summit at Snoqualmie in Washington, and three resorts in New Hampshire. Myself and another lady were in charge of centralizing the accounting function for all six resorts. I managed the West Coast resorts.

After two years with Booth Creek you returned to the Bay Area to work for a medical device company. How’d that come about?

My old boss from PwC contacted me about working at Kyphon as an internal auditor. My job came about when a new law called Sarbanes Oxley passed [to protect investors from fraudulent accounting activities] after Enron and Arthur Anderson. It requires CEOs and CFOs to certify their internal control structure and financial reporting before external auditors come in, so I became the one-person internal auditor. It was a great job, very social.

I wouldn’t have thought an auditor’s job would be very social.

It was. I got to talk to everybody from the CEO to the mail guy, figure out what everybody did all day long and document it. I was there for two years, then returned to Tahoe in 2007. I lived in Incline and commuted to Reno for a short stint with NV Energy, doing their SEC reporting.

I had a friend who worked at Sierra Nevada College in the marketing department. I sent him a résumé and inquired about teaching a night class in accounting. I also worked weekends at Alpine Meadows in kids’ camp for a free pass, and then one day after work I had a voice mail. It was SNC’s business department chair saying he had a corporate finance class that started the next morning and wanted me to teach it. He wanted to meet with me immediately. I literally had four-year-old spit-up and peanut butter and jelly on my ski pants. He said it didn’t matter. That’s how I got into teaching. It turns out I really enjoyed it and felt it was something I was good at.

You’re a fast riser. You’ve been Associate Professor since 2008. Now you’re department chair.

Well, I take on challenges. I don’t shy away from them. I tell my students this all the time. When the opportunity presents itself, take it.

Are you skiing a lot now? What other sports do you enjoy?

Yes, I have a pass at Diamond Peak. I’m starting to be a golfer, much to my husband’s excitement. I met Ethan at the Mountain Course in Incline.

When you came back to Tahoe, why did you move to Incline instead of Tahoe City, Truckee, or Kings Beach?

After I left Booth Creek, I lived in San Francisco while I worked for Kyphon. Friends of mine were buying a place in Incline. With my Bay Area salary, I asked them if I could rent a bedroom so I could stay on weekends when I skied. When I returned to Tahoe full time I moved in with them and I’ve been in Incline ever since. Then I met my husband Ethan.

What are some interesting aspects about the area that appeal to you?

For me, Incline in particular, the access to the golf courses, the beaches, the amenities in this community are really what attracted me. I definitely wanted to be on the Nevada side because I’m working in Nevada. Really, this is the only community in Nevada on the North Shore.

What’s something quirky that people don’t know about you, aside from two of your fingernails painted with Mickey Mouse heads?

We’re going to DisneyWorld. This will be my first time because I always went to Disneyland when I was a kid. A fun thing to throw out is this: the transit system at UC Davis is run entirely by students. So not only can I drive a bus, I can drive a double-decker bus like the old London-style ones. That was a pretty cool college job.

 
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October 11, 2018