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Longtime Sac State health leader receives CSU’s top employee honor for her impact on students’ well-being

Joy Stewart-James was honored by the California State University with a prestigious Wang Family Excellence Award. Stewart-James retired in December after more than 15 years at the University, last serving as senior associate vice president of Sacramento State’s Student Health and Counseling Services. (Sacramento State file/Andrea Price)

Joy Stewart-James, who recently retired after more than 15 years leading Sacramento State’s Student Health and Counseling Services, has been honored by the California State University with a prestigious Wang Family Excellence Award.

Wang Family Excellence Award recipient Joy Stewart-James, dressed in a graduation gown, stands at a podium, speaking at a recent commencement.
Wang Family Excellence Award recipient Joy Stewart-James established Sac State’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic in early 2021, allowing the University to offer immunizations to students, employees, and the public. (Sacramento State file/Rachel Howry)

The CSU presents the award annually to one staff and four faculty members. Recipients are recognized for contributions that are considered to be examples of the system’s commitment to students, scholarship, and service. Each winner receives a $20,000 award.

Trustees announced the awards during their meeting Jan. 24 in Long Beach.

Former CSU Trustee Stanley Wang and his family established the award in 1998 to celebrate outstanding faculty and staff members.

Stewart-James, who joined Sac State in 2007 as its executive director of Student Health and Counseling Services after more than 20 years working for a Texas hospital system, retired in December as senior associate vice president. 

In 2021, President Robert S. Nelsen honored Stewart-James with the President’s Medal for Distinguished Service, highlighting her leadership in Sac State’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a time when students, staff, and faculty pivoted to remote classes and work, Stewart-James led efforts to expand telehealth services, develop campus safety protocols, and address other challenges the pandemic presented. She established Sac State’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic in early 2021, which allowed the University to offer immunizations to students, employees, and the public.

“She kept our campus community safe during the pandemic and has played an integral role in improving the health and well-being of the Hornet community,” Nelsen said.

Earlier in her Sac State career, Stewart-James was instrumental in the design and construction of The WELL, a state-of-the-art health and fitness center that opened in 2010. She also integrated health and counseling services and led the University’s transition to electronic health records, allowing students to more easily book appointments, view records, and message their medical providers.

Student use of the health center and mental health services soared on Stewart-James’ watch as she sought to create a campus culture of wellness and inclusiveness.

“College health plays such a critical role in promoting prevention, eliminating barriers to access care, addressing health care equity, and treating patients holistically,” she said. “We are committed to meeting students where they are.”

Caring for patients has always been a privilege, she said.

“But my years at Sac State have been especially rewarding. I leave Sacramento State proud of our achievements, and I look forward to what is possible with new leadership.”

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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