In an environment where your last name is your identifier, Stephany Brown, who serves nearly 500 cadets as a housekeeper at New Cadet Hall, is on a mission to learn each cadet’s first name and to address them by it.

“It’s important to give them that little bit of humanism,” Brown said.

And the cadets notice. With her positive attitude, warm smile, and daily greetings, cadets tell her she brings a sense of normalcy to their lives. Brown said those simple acts bring her joy.

“I’ve never in my life been thanked so many times for doing such a simple task as sweeping stairs,” Brown said. “I get up every day to be the best person I possibly can. If, in that, I can make somebody’s day, that’s great.”

Given her proximity to and regular interaction with students, Brown claims the responsibility of role model as an unofficial element of her job description. “I want to be somebody that I like,” she said. “I come in there every day, and I’m just myself. I change for nobody. You may not always have that glorious job, but that doesn’t mean you have to be bitter or cynical or negative. You can make a difference in people’s lives just by being you.”

A cadet leans against the doorway of his residence hall room and smiles toward the woman he's talking to, who is standing in the hallway with her hands on her hips, also smiling
Benjamin Scholz, a civil engineering student and member of the Naval ROTC, catches up with Stephany Brown at New Cadet Hall.

Jon McIlvaine, resident life coordinator for the Corps of Cadets, described the difference Brown makes when he nominated her for an Aspire! Award last spring. “Stephany models what it means to be a holistic servant-leader to our community in significant ways. She willingly offers challenge and support to cadets in their most stressful moments. She models empathy, honor, and respect — qualities these future leaders will ideally adopt and emulate.”

Her profound impact on the Corps of Cadets community led her to become the first housekeeper invited to participate in the Caldwell March, a 13-mile journey traveled by first-year cadets and their training cadre tracing the footsteps of Addison Caldwell, Virginia Tech’s first student. The last mile of the trek was a steep uphill climb. She said what she witnessed in this final stretch of the march was a stark reminder of the goodness that still exists in the world.

“I was determined to make it on my own two feet,” she said.

She watched a handful of cadets pass her on their way toward the pinnacle, which motivated her to keep moving. She stopped occasionally to catch her breath, and at one point she turned around to see two cadets dragging a comrade whose energy and stamina had been depleted. These two cadets, though exhausted, were encouraging the friend they carried not to give up.

In Brown’s weakest moment, as if on cue, a cadet arrived beside her and with words of encouragement, inspired her to keep moving forward. Before she realized it, she’d made it to the top of the hill.

“That whole experience for me made me extremely grateful for life and made me want to appreciate every aspect of it,” she said. “It helped me realize not to take things for granted, and to appreciate the small things, and to truly help people.”

A woman wipes off dining tables in an empty room

The kindness bestowed upon her that day was more than just an act of service from a well-trained cadet. It was an offering of support from one corps family member to another. Brown’s genuine care for cadets’ well-being was genuinely reciprocated.

“Ten years down the road, they will be running our country,” said Brown. “I want to keep up with them and see where they go.”

“Stephany pours herself into whatever she does,” said Shay Barnhart, communications director for the Corps of Cadets. “She commits herself 100 percent. We’re grateful to have her as part of our team.”

Photos by Christina Franusich

Written by Tiffany Woodall