Although crisis work is not pretty and is seldom featured on college websites, it is nevertheless a critical component of college life, Dr. Paige Wigginton, '09, said.

As associate director of special services at University of Pennsylvania, Wigginton provides Penn’s 25,000 students with 24/7 crisis support for a myriad of emergencies, ranging from substance abuse to sexual assault, domestic violence, mental health, and family issues.

“I’ve sat with the families of students whose lives we’ve lost,” Wigginton said. “I’ve heard survivors of sexual violence name their perpetrator. I’ve watched students who took a leave of absence for mental health reasons walk across the graduation stage.

“In crisis work, you see the triumphs and the heartaches. You are there on someone’s worst day, sometimes only to be still and listen. Listening, I’ve found, is a profound service to others.”

Like Wigginton, Dr. Stephanie Eken Sander, '97, a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist, adult psychiatrist, and pediatrician, has dedicated her career to serving people in crisis.

Sander currently serves as the regional medical director of the partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs for Rogers Behavioral Health, a not-for-profit provider of mental health and addiction treatment with locations in seven states. She has received national psychiatry and mental health awards for her clinical work on obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

On June 1, during University of Richmond’s Reunion Weekend festivities, Sandra Peart, dean of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, presented Sander with the School’s 2019 Alumni Award and Wigginton with its 2019 Tenth-Year Alumni Recognition Award, by way of honoring their accomplishments that reflect the mission of the School. 

In acknowledging her award, Sander said, “The Jepson School helped me develop critical thinking skills, appreciate different perspectives, understand servant leadership, and be curious. I believe some of my greatest strengths as a doctor are to be curious and to question.”

She credited Dr. Richard Couto, an original member of the Jepson School faculty, with planting in her the seeds of learning and servant leadership. This had a profound effect on her undergraduate education and future career, she said.

“Dr. Couto played an important role in my development as a student and person at Jepson, both academically and athletically,” said Sander, who was co-captain of the Spider Women’s Basketball Team. “My Jepson School Alumni Award is representative of his legacy.”

During the year following her Jepson School graduation, Sander worked with Couto to research the recipients of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leadership Award for a book they co-authored: To Give Their Gifts: Health, Community, and Democracy. Her interest in health care led her to pursue a medical degree at University of Tennessee.

Similarly, Wigginton thanked the Jepson School for providing her with “a pathway to serve others,” something her participation in Richmond’s Bonner Scholars Program reinforced. As a Bonner Scholar, she created a college-access mentoring program for underserved Richmond high school students.

But it was her Jepson School course Leadership and the Future of Higher Education that piqued her interest in higher education. Ultimately, she earned master’s and doctorate degrees in higher education at University of Pennsylvania.

“The Jepson School, Westhampton College, the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, and University of Richmond as a whole instilled a curiosity for leadership and service in me,” Wigginton said. “My hope is to pay it forward as best I can.”

Photo: left to right, Dr. Paige Wigginton, Dr. Sandra Peart, Mr. Robert S. Jepson Jr., Mrs. Alice Andrews Jepson, and Dr. Stephanie Eken Sander