Mayor Sly James almost chose a different career, thanks to MCC

When Kansas City, Mo. Mayor Sly James, an alumnus of MCC-Penn Valley, stopped by the campus on Friday, he was nostalgic about his days at the college.

Sly James, mayor of Kansas City, Mo., stopped by the MCC-Penn Valley Health Science Institute on Friday. James, an alumnus of MCC, almost chose a career in science because of his experience as a student at Penn Valley.

“My experience at Penn Valley almost led me to choose a different career path,” James quipped during a tour of the MCC-Penn Valley Health Science Institute.

When he attended classes at the campus in the mid 1970s, he had a particularly impactful experience in a geology class that led him to consider a career in science, James recalled. Then one day, his Penn Valley geology instructor took him to visit UMKC’s science department so he could get a feel for what it would mean to pursue a degree in that field. 

“I was ready to abandon my plans to go to law school until I found out I would need to take classes like Russian and calculus,” he said, chuckling. “So I stuck with my original plan.”

After completing three semesters at Penn Valley, James transferred to Rockhurst University (then called Rockhurst College) where he earned a bachelor’s degree. The Kansas City native and Bishop Hogan High School graduate then went on to earn a law degree from the University of Minnesota. A U.S. military veteran, James served in the United States Marines during the Vietnam War.

Before being elected mayor of Kansas City in 2011, James practiced law at Blackwell Sanders, where he was the firm’s first African-American partner, and he later established the Sly James Firm. Since taking office as mayor, he has earned accolades for his accomplishments, including for his “Learn to Win” initiative, focused on improvement of the educational landscape across Kansas City.

Mayor James talks with Dr. Lester Hardegree, dean of the MCC-Penn Valley Health Science Institute, and Liz Santander, head of the Virtual Hospital, while MCC Chancellor Mark James looks on.
Mayor James hears from Dr. Lester Hardegree, executive director of the MCC-Penn Valley Health Science Institute, and Liz Santander, head of the Virtual Hospital, about how the pediatric patient simulator serves as an effective learning tool for students. (See more photos at

James’s visit to the MCC-Penn Valley Health Science Institute was his first opportunity to get an in-depth look at the state-of-the-art healthcare education and training facility, which opened in 2010. Lester Hardegree, dean of health science and executive director of the Health Science Institute, guided the mayor through several labs and learning environments, including the surgical suite, occupational therapy assistant lab and the Virtual Hospital.

The ever-connected mayor, known for his activity and responsiveness on the social media platform Twitter, had this to say in a tweet after his visit:

“@MCCKansasCity I was IMPRESSED with the cutting edge program you have. #firstclass #kansascity”

We are proud to call #KansasCity @MayorSlyJames an #alumnus of @MCCKansasCity.