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Alumni Feature: Sylvia Franson (’87) on Paving the Way and Giving Back

The daughter of immigrant parents from Mexico, Sylvia Franson, a 1987 Seaver College graduate, was one of the first members of her family to graduate from college. Seeking a career in business, she landed a position with NBCUniversal’s advertising team, eventually retiring as the vice president of West Coast advertising sales. 

“Since I had to figure things out on my own,” says Franson, “I was inspired to give people advice and direction and guidance, all of the things that I didn’t have. I felt like my responsibility was to open doors.” 

So when Matt McDonald, the then executive director of alumni relations at Pepperdine, called Franson to ask if she was interested in potential involvement opportunities, Franson agreed to meet him for lunch. 

“It took off from there,” Franson reflects. “I wanted to get back into my alma mater. I was incredibly excited.” 

That phone call, and the resulting lunch 15 years ago, catapulted Franson into a role as a career coach and mentor for Pepperdine students. Operating within this position, the former NBCU vice president has impacted the careers of many Seaver College undergraduates.

Maria Chavez, who graduated from Seaver College in 2022, is one of the students who has been a direct beneficiary of Franson’s quest to open doors for others. The two women met through Pepperdine’s career coaching program, and a relationship quickly formed. Since then, Chavez interned twice at NBCU, and upon her graduation, she stepped into a full-time position as a marketplace operations associate. 

“I really clicked with Sylvia—her passion—her vision and dedication to giving back,” says Chavez. “I was inspired by the way she carries herself. She’s also a woman of color, and I see myself wanting to be like her.”

Franson has taught Chavez to see herself as having unlimited potential as a young professional. “It’s so easy for college students or recent college graduates to undermine themselves or think that they’re underqualified and have doubts and insecurities. Sylvia always reminds me to keep advocating for myself,” says Chavez.

While Chavez sees Franson as a mentor, Franson views the relationships she carries with her students differently. She may serve as an educator or coach, but the advertising executive is also a student of her mentees. 

“I look at these students, and they are so smart,” says Franson. “They take advantage of opportunities that come their way. They are bold, and I love that. I have to remember to continue to be bold.” 

Boldness has followed Franson throughout her career. Beginning as a sales assistant, she skyrocketed through the ranks to become one of only four vice presidents for NBCUniversal’s West Coast branch. “She’s a big deal,” says Chavez.

Becoming a “big deal” in a large, successful company can be complicated. Yet Franson’s recipe for success, the same recipe that she passes down to all of her mentees, is simple. “It’s not what happens to you, but it’s how you react to what happens to you,” says Franson. “That’s game changing.”