Leader At U.Va. Puts Teaching Over Politics
May 6, 2002-- Anyone who despairs
over the future should spend a little time with Abby Fifer for an
in-depth class in optimism and dedication.
Roanoke native and outgoing University of Virginia Student Council
president epitomizes leadership and self-reliance, traits that were
put to the ultimate test in the hours following the Sept. 11 attacks.
Skills and poise developed over a lifetime and honed during her
years at U.Va. culminated in a night of quick thinking and helping
she got to Old Cabell Hall for the students candlelight vigil
for peace and understanding, the place was already overflowing its
840-person capacity. The organizer was panicking.
got to hold it outside in the amphitheater," Fifer told him.
"We can do this."
how would that work in the dark with no sound system? Fifer knew
facilities technicians at Newcomb Hall, where her Student Council
office is located. She made a few phone calls, and some student
workers came from home to set up lights and microphones.
there was another call Fifer wanted to make. She dialed U.Va. President
John T. Casteen III and said, "I think you might want to come
down here and see what your students are doing."
did come. And over the next few days, Fifer, Casteen, his staff
and a few others organized the Universitys memorial service
on the countrys day of mourning.
her semesters and summers here, Fifer has "spent a lot of time
getting to know how U.Va. is organized, and Ive met a lot
of people who give of themselves in ways most students dont
get to see," she said. Theyve shown her that "students
matter, the community matters. The people Ive had the privilege
to work with are really living for the students at this school.
Its not just a day job."
administrators and faculty who have gotten to know her have seen
her take that observation to heart.
Fifer has been uncommonly principled, smart and focused in her work
as Student Council president," said Casteen.
is proudest of the legacy she leaves with Student Council, she said,
because "working with great people, you help improve things
and help others develop programs that reach out to many people,"
she said. The programs she has created or supported involve building
community and connections: researching the need for a new student
center; helping make the case for University-sponsored health insurance
for graduate students; and reorganizing the Student Council committee
structure to widen representation.
example of how Fifer saw a need and found a way to take care of
it came from an observation about her Echols Scholars peers. Because
they dont have to take classes in certain subjects, Echols
students theoretically could go through all four years without being
exposed to a diversity of ideas and perspectives. She designed a
seminar for first-year Echols students last year that was facilitated
by third- and fourth-year students. It focused on issues of ethical
importance, with different topics and guest speakers each week.
The short course has been adopted permanently.
"intentions are always for the betterment of the community
or the other person," said Patricia M. Lampkin, interim vice
president for student affairs. "She is courageous, intelligent
and has a humility that is refreshing."
never wanted to be in politics," Fifer protested. "I like
to think of myself as a teacher, [someone] who points people in
the right direction."
put her words into action next year, teaching in a private school.
Eventually, shed like to pursue a masters degree in
theology or religious studies.
was elected to Student Council as a College representative in the
second semester of her first year and served two more semesters.
Joe Bilby, then-Student Council president, appointed her chief of
staff and encouraged her to run for the top post after him.
first-year students feel more welcome has been another major area
of influence. Fifer participated in the summer orientation program
and, as Student Council president, performed a skit and gave a talk
to incoming students at last falls Convocation. She also led
the first-ever orientation team in a new summer program after her
first year, and she set the bar high, according to Laurie Casteen,
interim assistant director of orientation.
a leader, you always hope that the principles you stand for are
present and active in the space you helped to create," Fifer
said. "You hope youre contributing something positive."
clear that Abby Fifer has done that at U.Va.
Bromley, (434) 924-6861