Sydney Stepney: A Journey of Service and Achievement

Sydney Stepney’s story has been marked by her dedication to service and her academic achievements, culminating in her receiving the prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at Queens University of Charlotte. The award, presented by the President of Queens University, honors a graduating senior who represents the highest ideals of both the university and society. Stepney’s story is one of resilience, hard work, and a profound commitment to serving.

Early Life and Upbringing

Stepney, originally from Atlanta, Georgia, grew up as one of seven in a large family of children. She describes her life after high school as “nomadic,” moving to different places as she pursued her education and career. “As soon as I graduated high school, I went to Queens University of Charlotte. As soon as I graduated Queens, I went to Ohio State. And now I live in Baltimore,” Stepney explained. Her upbringing in a close-knit family instilled in her a strong sense of community and the importance of supporting one another.

Stepney’s parents played a significant role in guiding her educational journey. She recalled her mother’s advice about choosing a college: “I remember my mom telling me, ‘Sydney, just trust me on this. I think that you need a small school environment.’ And I’m so glad I leaned in and trusted my mom because she was absolutely right.” This decision led her to Queens University of Charlotte, where she would thrive both academically and personally.

Academic and Extracurricular Excellence

Stepney’s time at Queens University was characterized by her involvement in a wide array of activities that shaped her and a commitment to academic excellence, both of which were recognized throughout her tenure at the Queens. She consistently demonstrated outstanding academic performance, earning recognition on the Dean’s List every semester. Her dedication to learning and her engagement with diverse cultural and social issues earned her the prestigious Diana Award, which honored her efforts in understanding cultural differences and encouraging students to use their voices for others.

Stepney’s leadership skills were also prominently recognized. She received the Resident Assistant of the Year award for her exceptional role in leading and upholding the values of the Queens Residence Life Department. Her commitment to community service was celebrated with the Outstanding Achievement in Community Service award, which acknowledged her efforts in going above and beyond to serve her community, school, and peers.

Additionally, her visibility and impact as a teacher’s assistant were highlighted when she was named Roadmap Scholar of the Year, a recognition given by both professors and students. As a freshman, her leadership and community service were also recognized with the Emerging Leader of the Year award, honoring her positive impact on campus and her exemplary role within the student minority group community.

Stepney was deeply involved in campus life, participating in the Black Student Organization, the Public Health Students Organization, and serving as head resident assistant for two years. She also took on numerous internships, participated in sports like track and cheer, and was a Royal Ambassador, giving tours to incoming students. “I was in every internship you could name. I was on every council you can name. I did track, I did cheer. The President and I were super close, the Vice President and I were super close,” she recalled.

Her academic journey was not without its challenges. Stepney worked tirelessly to afford her education, often relying on scholarships and financial aid. She reflects on a particularly challenging time during her senior year: “I remember my senior year, not having enough money to finish the school year off. I went to the financial aid office and just let them know my story. Within a couple of weeks, a donor had covered the rest of my tuition.” This kind of support extended to her graduate studies at Ohio State, where she also graduated debt-free thanks to the generosity of donors and both universities’ commitment to helping students in need.

Stepney’s service extended beyond the classroom as well. She was fortunate to participate in several mission trips and study abroad programs, which broadened her horizons and deepened her understanding of global issues. “I traveled a lot, three times, and didn’t pay for any of it because we just have amazing donors,” she explained. Her travels included a mission trip to Guatemala, a study of Jewish Holocaust history in Poland, and a course on Brexit and peace and conflict reconciliation in Ireland. These experiences were pivotal in shaping her worldview and reinforcing her commitment to serving others.

Stepney’s hard work, determination, and the support she received have played a significant role in her success. Her story is a testament to the power of dedication, resilience, and the impact of a supportive educational environment.

“The Butterfly Effect”

Stepney first heard about the Sullivan Award during her freshman year when she attended a graduation ceremony. “I remember attending the graduation during my freshman year. I didn’t know that many people yet, but I remember them announcing that receiving the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award was the ultimate honor, and as faddish as this may seem, I thought I would love to receive that award, because my name is Sydney. Like, how cool would that be?” she recalled.

Four years later, upon actually receiving the Sullivan Award, Stepney recalled a deeply emotional moment for her and her family. She shared a poignant story about her great-grandmother, who had passed away only hours before. “When my grandmother passed away, the hospice facility gave the family a butterfly to signify my grandmother getting her angel’s wings,” she explained. As the award ceremony began, a yellow butterfly appeared, which she felt was a sign from her great-grandmother. “I immediately started bawling, and I texted my mom and wrote, ‘There’s a yellow butterfly. I feel like Granny’s with me. I think I might get this award.’ And as soon as I pressed send, they announced my name.”

Stepney’s receipt of the Sullivan Award was not only a recognition of her hard work but also a deeply personal and spiritual experience. “I felt like my grandmother was telling me, ‘Though I can’t be with you all physically, I’m still there, and I can still see you walk across the stage.’ And I am so proud of you.”

Professional Journey

After graduating from Queens University, Stepney pursued a Master’s in Health Administration from Ohio State. Currently, she is an Administrative Fellow at Johns Hopkins Medicine, where she rotates through various departments and works on different projects designated by hospital presidents. “It’s a two-year fellowship. We have over 25 different rotations every two weeks, four weeks, or six weeks. Each time, I’m in a different part of the health system,” she explained. Her role involves shadowing leaders, working on system-wide projects, and gaining a comprehensive understanding of healthcare administration.

Stepney describes the fellowship as an immersive learning experience: “Essentially what I do on these rotations is I am working on different projects designated by the hospital leadership. I shadow them following them everywhere they go to understand and learn how to work in each of those administrator roles.”

Stepney’s passion for service continues to drive her professional goals. She is actively seeking ways to get involved in her local community in Baltimore and looks forward to future opportunities to serve on boards and panels. “I feel like receiving the Sullivan Award called on me to do more and reach higher to have an impact. But now I feel a need to make an impact in my new role and in my career.”

Reflection and Future Goals

Receiving the Sullivan Award was a turning point for Stepney, reinforcing her commitment to service and leadership. “I really feel like it was a reflection of not only just my hard work, but for being a risk taker and being goal-oriented,” she explained. Looking to the future, she remains focused on making a difference, both in her current role at Johns Hopkins and in her broader career.

Her story demonstrates that through hard work, dedication, and a commitment to serving others, it is possible to achieve great things. As she continues to pursue her career and serve her community, she remains an example of the values embodied by the Sullivan Award.

Back to all News items.