Heather Savino ‘16 enrolled at Stony Brook because of its reputation as a top-notch STEMM school.
Inspired by the people she met and the opportunities for activism offered at SBU, Heather changed course and became an agent of change, primarily in the areas of LGBTQ and gender issues. She ended up earning a bachelor of science degree in social welfare and choosing a career path that points toward progress.
“If I can implement policies and advance human rights toward equity, I will be able to use the advocacy skills I learned at Stony Brook not only to accept, but also to affirm identities that promote inclusion and celebrate the intersectional lives of all people,” Heather said.
In her first semester, Heather sampled the wide range of clubs and organizations that participate in the autumn Involvement Fair. One caught her interest — the SBU StandUp Charter against Bullying and Homophobia.
“I was inspired by fellow students such as Brian Mazeski and Olivia Sanchez, who embody activism and work toward fighting oppression and discrimination,” she said.
Later that year, Heather met Shannon Jayne and Anastasia Zannettis. Jayne, the inaugural director for the Academic Success and Tutoring Center, introduced Heather to the Campus Involvement Project. Through this organization Heather enlightened 101 course students about Stony Brook traditions and the “25 Things to Do Before You Graduate.”
Zannettis, the associate director of the Undergraduate Colleges, inspired Heather to become an Undergraduate College fellow with her leadership style, and that’s where she fine-tuned her own leadership skills through a training course, mentoring freshmen as a sophomore teaching assistant.
While working at the Office of the Dean of Students, Heather met Ellen Driscoll, assistant dean of students, and Cathrine Duffy, associate director of student support. They both opened more doors for her to work within the advocacy realm, beginning with Elect Her!, the American Association of University Women’s elite program that aims to close the political leadership gender gap by training young women to run for office at all levels.
“The lack of diversity in office in America is appalling and puts this country at a disadvantage,” said Heather. “For example, women still hold less than 20 percent of congressional seats, despite constituting a majority of the U.S. population.”
During her sophomore year, Heather joined Chill Peer Education under the supervision of Kathleen Valerio, health educator and peer education program coordinator, and she became deeply involved in making her fellow students aware of health issues through programs such as SBU Kicks Butts.
As a sophomore and junior, Heather represented Stony Brook at the Northeast LGBT Conference. Two years earlier, Chris Tanaka, coordinator for LGBTQ, predicted that Stony Brook would host the conference before Heather graduated and that is exactly what happened in her senior year.
“My role was co-chair of the Logistics Sub-Committee with Brian Hopkins, assistant director for student development in the Office of Student Orientation and Family Programs. In that capacity, I successfully advocated for permanent all-gender bathrooms in the Student Activities Center,” said Heather. “It was emotionally rewarding to be part of a team that was able to create a safer place for the LGBTQ community and their allies on Stony Brook’s campus.”
During her Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) field placement, Heather found that social welfare even has a lighthearted side
Under the supervision of CAPS Triage Counselor Jennifer Penn, who has a Master of Social Work degree, Heather and staff members hosted trained therapy dogs for students to pet to relieve stress. “It was my favorite Stony Brook project,” she said.
Heather is attending the University of Maryland, Baltimore, this fall. Don’t be surprised if you see her someday running for an elected position.
“Leaving Stony Brook is a sad process for me but I am confident there are younger Seawolves who will fight for students’ rights,” she said.
— Glenn Jochum