By Nicole Capozziello
Published November 18, 2021
This fall, UB's Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) program announced a new program director, Virginia Stever.
Stever, who joined the University at Buffalo in January 2020, previously served as Director of Administration in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Before that, she worked in the Department of Economics at Binghamton University.
“I welcome Virginia to WiSE and look forward to working with her to offer our students WiSE programming with renewed energy,” says Marina Blanton, WiSE Faculty Director and an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. “We also hope to expand the reach of the program beyond the current UB students and attract new, diverse talent to science and engineering majors.”
Since 2014, the WiSE program has played an important role in attracting and building up women in STEM programs at UB, welcoming them into a community of support and growth to help prepare them for their careers.
This year, with a return to more in-person events, WiSE is once again providing women students with opportunities for connection and professional development. Program offerings range from opportunities for connection like the WiSE & Shine Breakfast Meet-up to unwinding at movie nights to gaining knowledge through workshops on finding undergraduate research opportunities.
We sat down with Stever to learn about what’s led her here and what she’s most looking forward to about working with the WiSE program.
How would you describe your personal philosophy?
I live my life by the words, “don’t tell me no, tell me how.” I get out of life what I want by helping others get what they want. I am an eternal optimist, an independent thinker, and extremely determined.
What challenges have you faced in your life and how have they impacted you?
I grew up in a family with two sisters and one brother. The expectations for tasks for my sisters and me were always different from my brother – and I always questioned it. When I was graduating high school, I was told that girls do not need to go to college. That alone inspired me to want to go. I went away to the University of Albany, where I studied linguistics. As a first-generation college student my parents weren’t supportive and if I wanted to go, I had to pay for it myself. I had a work-study job in the art gallery, was copyeditor for the newspaper The Albany Student Press, was a typist on the side, and worked the closing shift at a local Burger King. After five semesters, I transferred to Stony Brook University and finished my degree there as a transfer student – which had its own challenges.
In 2015, after a long career in the real estate industry, I decided to make a career change to higher ed. While working as the Assistant to the Chair for the Binghamton University Economics Department, I was fortunate to work with the students there and then became a student again myself. I earned my Masters of Public Administration (MPA), as a nontraditional student which was both challenging and rewarding. As a student and a staff member I was able to experience university life from both perspectives.
What excites you about this role?
I’m really looking forward to working directly with young people, which is something I’ve done in many different capacities over the years. In my previous position at Binghamton University, I worked with a diverse group of students and created programming that increased their opportunities for education, careers and engagement. I am grateful for the support I can give students and many students I’ve worked with over the years stay in touch with me, which is wonderful. Outside of work, I also taught religious education and led a youth group for several years. One-on-one, I mentored a Gold Award Girl Scout in her project of developing an anti-bullying full-day workshop. I still mentor her almost a decade later and am so proud of who she’s become.
Throughout my career, I’ve worked in a lot of spaces where women are in the minority and getting ahead is more difficult. In this role, I’m looking forward to being able to empower other women.
Behind the scenes, I’m excited to draw on my passion and experience for creating and improving systems as I grow and enhance this program and help the WiSE students get everything they want and deserve out of their educational experience.
What is something you’ve done that you are proud of?
I created a presentation called “Your Name Matters! A simplified approach to pronouncing people’s names” that I presented 22 times during my four years at Binghamton, including at two different diversity conferences. The presentation emphasizes the value of learning and attempting to pronounce others’ names. The workshop provides a very simplified set of tools to pronounce people’s names including Asian names. I was inspired to create the presentation after meeting with a Chinese student who told me that in his four years at the university, I was the first person to pronounce his name correctly. I wanted to draw on my linguistics training and presentation skills to empower people on pronunciation and most importantly, to help more people feel valued.
What three words best describe you?
Passionate, driven, organized