Sara Sterphone (35/50)
CCS was honored to showcase 50 individuals and activities during our 50th Anniversary in 2017-2018 to share our rich history. Take a look at the amazing people responsible for making our unconventional College possible!
If you visited the College of Creative Studies (CCS) over the last five years, there is a high chance that you spoke with Sara Sterphone. Sara joined CCS in 2013 as a Student Advisor, and a year later became the Senior Student Advisor. In this CCS 50 for 50, Sara shares her experience at CCS, why she moved from New Jersey to Santa Barbara, and much more!
Sara is like a wizard of all info at CCS. You can go to her for anything and she magically knows the answer.
- Katie Feerst, third-year CCS Biologist
CCS: Share a little about your background.
Sara Sterphone: I grew up in New Jersey as the daughter of two Army vets. We weren’t well off (my Dad only went to college because of the GI bill, and I was a month old at his graduation), and my parents had to work a lot. Consequently, most of my childhood memories are of being with my grandparents. Together with my brother, we would walk to the store, garden (mostly weed, actually), or play. Grandma would always have different projects ready for us, too. Things like building and painting birdhouses, paint-by-numbers that we would defy by making the sky yellow and the grass purple, and more practical things like helping her scrape the wallpaper from a room, dust or clean.
I remember the singing the most, though. My grandma was horrible, but that didn’t matter. I loved to sing, and she made me feel that listening to me sing was her absolute favorite thing in the world and that I should sing every moment that I could. That led me to sing at church, and I became the youngest cantor there at ten years old. I sang in choirs at school, I sang in the New Jersey Regional Choirs, I sang in the car, I sang in the shower - I sang wherever I could. Today, I still sing at home and in a couple of community groups.
I started working when I was 14 years old as a clerk in the law firm where my dad was employed as a paralegal, and I worked there through High School. I also tried various other jobs, including at a movie theater, Old Navy, Dunkin Donuts, as a temp with a placement firm, and then finally spent almost four years as the Front Desk Office Manager for a small dental office. While at the dental office, I received my Dental Radiology license and got a load of experience as a Dental Assistant. I also worked with a board game designer to assist with developing board games. I have developer credit on five games (Core Worlds, Core Worlds: Galactic Orders, The Hunger Games: Jabberjay, The Hunger Games: District 12, and Canterbury) and designer credit on two expansion sets (Core Worlds: Revolution and Quarriors! Quartifacts). I’m proud of my board game experience, but it has been hard to keep up as Quixotic Games is on the other side of the country!
Sara epitomizes CCS in every way: her passion for the College and its students; her creative and thoughtful approach to every issue; and her dedication and hard work.
-John Latto, CCS Biology Faculty
CCS: How did you find out about CCS?
SS: Completely by chance. I had already moved out to Santa Barbara to be closer to my brother and partner, so I figured it would be awesome to work on campus, too! I was looking through the UCSB Jobs Board for a position that could use my skill sets, and the Student Advisor position at CCS looked interesting so I applied. I had done a variety of office work throughout my career and I thought ‘How different could it be working in an office at a college?’ I was attracted to the opportunity to help students persevere through the kinds of possible challenges that I had, unfortunately, personally experienced. I had a bit of a wayward experience through college, including an incident of sexual violence and a long-term abusive relationship. I continue to be motivated to guide students through their college experience, including difficult and trying times. I didn’t think I was qualified for the position, but I knew I could learn to be a good Student Advisor. Luckily, CCS apparently thought so too.
CCS: Take us through your career at the College.
SS: About two months into my time at CCS, Cholle Person, my supervisor and Senior Student Advisor, informed me that she was pregnant and that my training would encompass learning about my position and significant parts of her responsibilities as well. The training allowed me to be well prepared and confident when she went on maternity leave. Cholle was a fantastic teacher and mentor, and we got along incredibly well. I was a sponge, absorbing everything that I could about my responsibilities at CCS and about the University so I could best understand my role in the College, my position on campus, and the College’s positioning on campus. It was a whirlwind first year; I started in March 2013, and in January 2014 Cholle left on maternity leave. It was one of the most challenging times of my career, but it was an incredible learning experience. That learning experience and resulting success were possible because of the amazing, supportive atmosphere at CCS from the staff, faculty, and students. Damn, it was a challenge, but the students gave me the energy to go on!
Through the challenges and exhaustion, there was a light at the end of the tunnel; Cholle would be returning! So when Cholle instead shared the news that she would be leaving permanently, the light went out and I remember going home, crying, thinking ‘What am I going to do? I can’t keep this up, I can’t do this,’ and then contemplating whether or not to apply for the Senior Student Advisor position. I was in this exhausted despair, and my partner reminded me of the one thing that could lift me out of it. So I put on Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)” and “Diva” and pulled it together. I applied for the Senior Student Advisor position, and CCS once again took a chance on me. I officially stepped in as the lead Student Advisor in September 2014. All in all, I effectively spent ten months undertaking the advising/administration of both jobs, and I’ve been happily the Senior Advisor ever since.
CCS: What is your favorite aspect of CCS?
SS: I don’t know if I can pick a favorite! The students are incredible, hilarious, and inspirational. It is amazing to see everything the students accomplish while at CCS/UCSB and knowing all they will go on to achieve. This year’s inaugural Research and Creative Activities Conference (RACA-CON) in Fall 2017 was large-scale evidence of their accomplishments as researchers and creators of original work, but I also see it on a daily basis in their senior shows or their research posters hung around the building. Even when we are in seemingly casual settings, like in a car or at the dining commons, the students inevitably turn the conversation to teaching each other about their respective passions, discussing their classes, and talking through hard problems. That kind of curiosity and thirst for knowledge is almost palpable—it continues to motivate me, professionally to support them the best way I can and personally to grow and evolve.
The small CCS staff of amazing and ambitious people reminds me that we all individually and collaboratively can make a big difference. I have the privilege of working with CCS faculty who treat me as a full partner in the support of students, and value my perspective and insights in a way that conveys that we are all on the same team, working towards the same goal to best support our students.
Every aspect of CCS (faculty, staff, students) pushes me to reflect, to grow, to aspire…to earn and deserve the trust I’ve been given as well as to quest always for the best.
CCS: How has CCS impacted your career?
SS: To be completely honest, when I moved to California I thought the relocation would be completely temporary and whatever job came up would be just to pay the bills! Well, it would be a plus if the job was enjoyable, but it would still be temporary. My time at CCS completely changed all of this. I feel I am invested in CCS in a way that I had never been in a previous position or organization. You know, CCS talks about being a haven for certain types of students, but that’s true of the faculty and staff that it attracts as well. I have fun here, and I feel at home here. Being at CCS has made me seriously consider a career in Student Affairs, and I know I’ll take CCS with me wherever I go.
CCS: What is the most significant piece of advice you would give to current CCS students?
SS: Don’t try to be something that you’re not. There are so many great quotes, but one that I like right now is, “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer,” Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture. Who you are and what you’ve been through is valuable, and your perspective is unique; embrace it, own it, and leverage it. Living as genuinely as possible will lead to a life full of joy, meaning, and impact. Don’t put a limit on your generosity or your love; life isn’t a zero-sum game. Everything you put into life, you will get back eventually in some form. (Does this count as more than one piece of advice?!)
CCS: Does a memorable moment stand out from your time at CCS? If so, please describe the moment.
SS: There are SO many from small things to big gestures and off-hand comments. One small moment sticks out.
There was a student who was stressed about her final exams and papers at the end of the quarter. She came to my office as a place to decompress, re-center, and do some work. While I worked at my computer, she sat in the corner for a couple of hours working on her papers until she had to go meet with a faculty member, and then she thanked me for letting her share my space. I want her to know that I miss her and am still rooting for her!
CCS: Anything else you would like to say about CCS?
SS: I am grateful to everyone at CCS, past and present, who has allowed me to be a part of their life and who has impacted/nurtured my personal and professional growth. Each one of them has impacted me, and I’m thankful to them wherever they are—from my little corner in this colorful building. CCS is a special place, and I wish students everywhere had the opportunity to experience this unique learning model. Community is so important; I hope every student takes this sense of community and builds it into their lives. For Sara, “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment, until it becomes a memory,” - Dr. Suess.