CCS Deans Aldana, Foltz, and Tiffney honor the memory of former CCS Academic Advisor Sara Sterphone
This message was sent to the CCS Community on April 30, 2021 in honor of former CCS Academic Advisor Sara Sterphone who passed away on April 25, 2021.
Dear CCS Community,
Sara Sterphone arrived at CCS to fill the new junior Student Affairs position in March of 2013. The first thing that hit CCS was Sara's laugh, bigger than she was... and then she made CCS live up to its potential in an overwhelming whirlwind of generous vitality, coupled with intense empathy and wisdom. She shared her energy like it would never run out. She always wanted to shine her light on someone else, and in turn, she made us strive to be the people she thought us to be.
To Sara, everyone in the room was important. Every voice would be heard, she'd make sure of it. Collaborative and positive, always finding a better way, Sara made things work. Sara rapidly became central to our College and Community. She was promoted to the Senior Student Affairs position in September of 2014, a testament to how quickly and impressively she had internalized the College’s operations and its students. Sara was the energy CCS ran on, whether directly or through the rest of us. High octane. She was always there, always pulling, always leaning in, always including, always supporting, connecting the dots and embracing both the small and big pictures. Everything from the individual student to the faculty, to the staff team and the Dean, to “the College” received her buoyant, insightful attention. She was a shoulder to cry on, a celebrating friend, and a wise advisor for students and faculty alike.
Sara was that rare individual who was intuitive and rational at the same time, identifying areas where CCS could improve and then working to make that happen. She rewrote the College for the better. Many of these improvements are with us today–new student events, a streamlined new admissions platform, formalized advising, critical faculty trainings, and strengthened connections between CCS and the rest of campus. She didn't just rewrite the rules—she rewrote the culture as our interpreter, our engineer, our carpenter and electrician. Sara made CCS into something that wasn't just about the building—a life-changing coming of age for students, a place with too big a heart to fit anywhere but in ourselves. Sara taught us that being CCS wasn't a job—it was a special opportunity, and it was a cause.
Sara held herself to impossibly high standards, and accomplished the impracticable, time and again, following an inherent sense of fairness that never lost its focus. Her battle cry of "That's not right!" rang out on behalf of students caught in a bureaucratic bind—and she'd get them out, too. But it also applied to anyone not fulfilling their responsibilities, including administrators, faculty, a shirking student or even a Dean. Sara kept us honest. Each of us, in our roles as Dean or faculty, have numerous memories of how Sara rescued us from a difficult situation or offered key insight into an issue or solved a technical problem. Each of us also saw Sara similarly inspire and rescue her co-workers and students on a daily basis. Hers was the “hidden work” that so many hope for and know must happen, but so few actually do. Not surprisingly, Sara’s abilities were recognized across campus. In January of 2020, the Registrar's office enticed her away from CCS to assume a key position focused upon data management and student services, an adventure cut short by her diagnosis. While Sara was intensely conflicted about leaving CCS, we cheered her on in accepting this exciting challenge - with our own selfish intent that she would perhaps return with new talents and expertise to be a future CCS Assistant Dean or radically change student advising models in higher ed. And right now, we can see her squinching her eyes behind her glasses as she lets that laugh out that was always too big to fit in her anyway, and points at us and explodes, "you are just too funny! Naaaaw! Never! You're such liars!" We all know that Sara never really left CCS as students, staff and faculty alike all continued to reach out to her and even in this last, challenging year, Sara continued to “check in” on how students were doing.
She was selfless and cared so much about other people. Professional Sara was Personal Sara. She was just a fundamentally good person. She spoke to students in trouble in the same way she would to friends in difficulty, and little wonder—to Sara, we were all friends, and she was always ready with a helping hand, or sympathy, or even a good loud singalong. Sara made even hard and tedious work fun—everything was an adventure if you just looked at it the right way. There is a photo of staff and administrators stuffing envelopes in the conference room. How boring. Except it wasn’t, because Sara was there. Long van ride? No problem—let’s have a sixty-mile an hour singalong at 10:00 at night on the way back from San Jose. What a great voice. Go find the best ramen in greater LA even though we are totally lost? Hell yeah, why not?
We all have Sara stories. She was always there for students, no matter when or what the need. She'd stay late to run game night, tying into another of her own loves and expertise, or to meet with a student, or the demanding Dean. Weekends, too. She had a way of making anyone— faculty, staff, Dean or student—she spoke with feel special and listened to. But Sara was authentic, it wasn’t contrived. In her life, she learned, through her own dark times, the spells to de-fang demons and help students to a mended life. And she understood that some things could not be mended, that you have to accept their existence and work around them. Her honest "Oh maaaaan, that really sucks," didn't mean she'd cheer from the sidelines—she would help you, whoever you were and whatever your supposed rank, get down to work, dig the ditches and make things right.
You could tell Sara anything because you knew she'd never tell. What stories she never told! But she remembered them all to make sure nothing and no one would fall through the cracks. We know there are people she transformed. We know there are trajectories she charted anew. We know she made a difference, not once or twice, but thousands of times, and for futures that stretch far beyond our horizon. She actually is immortal already, in the effect she has had on us. Sara gave some of herself to each of us. In the end, Sara, just by being Sara, inspires us. She helps make us better, urging us to be more joyful, spritely and spontaneous, and hugely compassionate. More like her. She was a woman who could have conquered the world, but instead, she stopped for us.
She lit fires in our cold rooms. We miss her.
In Sara’s honor, Chancellor Yang has asked for our campus flag to be lowered, tomorrow and through the weekend.
For those who are interested in attending, there will be a livestream of Sara’s memorial service tomorrow, May 1st at 11:00am PDT: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87330609083
Your CCS Deans
Bruce Tiffney (Dean 2005-2016; Interim Dean 2018-2020)
Kathy Foltz (Interim Dean 2016-2018)
Gerardo Aldana (Dean 2020-present)