Staff member honored for helping students safely return to campus during pandemic

September 30, 2022

Headshot of Heather Stegmaier

For Heather Stegmaier, helping others and the community in any way she can comes naturally.

When asked to take on a leadership volunteer role in the university’s efforts to bring back students to campus for the Fall 2020 semester during the COVID-19 pandemic, she immediately agreed. This meant that on top of her full-time role overseeing donor-funded endowments as director of donor relations and fund management along with other donation and alumni-related duties, she now was responsible for the student-testing process.

For her efforts, Stegmaier is being recognized next month with the university’s most prestigious award, the Center for Excellence in Service to Students Award.

With the help of Zara Lyon, the executive assistant to vice president for development and alumni affairs, and Mark Tortora, associate director for education abroad programs, Stegmaier began to navigate unknown terrain while putting her life at risk. From managing swabbing stations to dealing with test tubes, Stegmaier was essential to the efforts to stop the spread of the virus.

“The risk for being exposed to COVID-19 was high due to the proximity of thousands of people coming through the testing site each day. The nature of the volunteer roles and the long periods of time that we were at the testing site each day,” said Stegmaier. “Of course, we enforced every precaution possible to mitigate transmission, but for most of the 2020-21 academic year the vaccine had not yet become available.”

Even with a massive responsibility in a high-stress environment, those who saw and worked with Stegmaier said she never failed to treat them with kindness.

“Each time I volunteered at testing she smiled and greeted me,” said Elizabeth Brown, director of business operations for One Stop. “She was genuinely concerned for the welfare of all members of our community. Most importantly, she risked her life daily by staying in the gym for hours on end.”

To Stegmaier, receiving the Center for Excellence award is an honor.

“This award signifies to me that Quinnipiac places a high value on community, service and lifting each other up, especially during challenging times,” said Stegmaier. “It also reinforces to me that the Quinnipiac community extends far and wide to include faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and friends who care deeply about Quinnipiac’s students and their well-being. I’m blown away that my efforts are recognized to this degree from the university community. It feels amazing, and I am extremely humbled and grateful.”

When it comes to facing adversity, Stegmaier’s advice can be applied to any difficult situation where the future is unknown.

“It can be scary to say ‘yes,’ and not know the full extent of what is required,” she said. “There is no road map or procedure manual and it will require you to figure it out as you go. During COVID, information was constantly changing and being updated, so you really need to be flexible and choose the best option in any given moment. It is important to rely on your teammates and colleagues, to ask for help, and to be consistent in your efforts.”

Stegmaier hopes that her contributions will continue to have an impact during potential future turbulent situations, she said.

“I hope that the efforts of myself and my partners in on-campus testing, and all the students who participated week after week in testing, created a strong foundation for a high-functioning educational environment despite the immense global challenges of the pandemic.”

While Stegmaier’s actions are being recognized by the University and are seen as inspirational to many, she still continues to find inspiration from those around her.

“I am inspired by people who live authentic lives and are willing to take risks for what they believe in, or what they are passionate about,” she said. “I am inspired by people who aren’t afraid to let their true voice rise above the noise and chatter of this busy and crazy world; or when people take the time to hone special skills and talents in their own quiet way, even if there is no productivity or end-result involved.”

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