Sarah Steele holds the keys to the Women’s Center’s heart – and its doors and filing cabinets and every administrative undertaking. The first face you see when you walk in the Center (or at least that’s when Sarah’s receptionist desk faced the front door at the Corner location, before we had to move for an office overhaul), Sarah is the essence of calm, caring friendliness and impeccable professionalism. What’s more, she’s wicked smart and could run circles ‘round us in Russian and other subjects. She also has something in common with Elizabeth Taylor (but you have to read more to find out). We give you our very own Grace Slick, Sarah.
1. Tell us about your path to UVA, to where you are now and the work you’re currently doing for the Women’s Center.
After applying to a few schools and getting into some of them, I chose UVA because it was the only school that offered to pay my tuition. Well, I use the word “chose” loosely because the decision was basically made when my dad saw the scholarship offer and said, “That’s where you should go. It’s a great school, too.” After completing undergrad with a degree in Russian and Linguistics, I stayed on for grad school to continue my studies in Slavic Languages and Literatures because they offered me a fellowship (again, finances were a motivator).
After grad school and a few years living in Moscow teaching English, I lost my once diehard desire to become a professor of Russian and decided to work in education in a different way.
Back in Charlottesville, I woke up one morning to a hand-written note from my roommate shoved under my bedroom door with some scribble on it about a receptionist position at the UVA Women’s Center. It said something about “30 hours a week,” and I immediately thought, “That means no benefits” and almost didn’t call. (Side note: I’m apparently whimsical enough to take off to Russia for a couple years and spend my entire twenties “finding myself,” but practical enough to narrow my job search to include jobs with health insurance.) However, I did call that morning and am so glad I did.
My position at the Women’s Center has expanded far beyond receptionist, and I have learned so much that has prepared me for whatever my future holds. I work as an assistant to our Director, Abby Palko; hone my interpersonal skills as office coordinator and front desk manager; and even supervise the Legal Clinic interns. No matter what I’m doing, I’m usually helping someone, which is what I’ve always wanted to do, even if I didn’t always know how specifically during my long and winding path here.
2. Who would you most like to meet (living or dead) for coffee?
Richard Simmons! He’s such a positive and accepting person – a true role model for anyone who’s ever doubted what they can achieve.