Keeping WUSTL moving

Hunter helps keep university Metro and carpool commuters on course

Stephanie Hunter

David Kilper

Stephanie Hunter (right), transportation operations supervisor, gives Anthony Bernatas, a junior in economics in Arts & Sciences, his U-Pass during U-Pass distribution at the Danforth University Center in August. “Though Stephanie takes her job seriously, she has a frequent smile or laugh — she is easily and instantly likeable and genuinely cares about others,” says Steve Hoffner, associate vice chancellor for operations

It’s just a program. Stephanie Hunter knows this. Still, that doesn’t stop her from beaming with motherly pride when discussing her “baby” — the university’s U-Pass program.

Hunter, transportation operations supervisor, manages the popular U-Pass program — which provides full-time faculty, staff and students free, unlimited use of Metro transit — and she’s been there from its inception in 2004 to the approximately 19,100 participating employees and students as of fall 2010.

“I was there in the beginning, and I helped to develop it, watched it grow,” Hunter says. “I take a lot of pride in seeing what a difference it makes to people on campus.”

Hunter’s real “baby” is her special-needs daughter, Roma, 21, who this past May overcame autism and cerebral palsy to graduate from high school.

Hunter says Roma’s biggest interest is music — from Hootie and the Blowfish to Aretha Franklin to Al Green. During a recent shopping trip, Roma picked out a CD containing a compilation of ’80s hair band songs.

“She’s got me listening to Whitesnake,” Hunter says, shaking her head.

Though Roma doesn’t talk much, she will sing entire songs when the mood strikes her. “She’ll be singing a song, a brand new one, and I’m wondering, how does she know the words to that song?” Hunter says.

Both Hunter and Roma have their own gifts with words; Hunter’s is being able to put others at ease, whether through humor or patient understanding — one reason she’s so successful in the customer-service aspects of her job.

“Working with Stephanie is a pleasure,” says WUSTL Police Chief Don Strom, with whom Hunter has helped coordinate transportation for events and conferences. “Her energy and personality just light up a room the moment she walks in.

“You know if you have to talk to Stephanie, it’s going to be bright spot in your day.”


‘Nerdy girl’

Hunter had her own passion while growing up in north St. Louis: stories. Hunter, the oldest of five children, says she was a “total nerd” who read everything from Judy Blume books to the Three Investigators series.

“I’d walk to the library during the summer and check out nine books,” Hunter says. “You could keep them for two or three weeks, and I’d be done with all of them by the time they had to go back.”

Hunter didn’t just want to read; she wanted to tell stories, too. A wannabe TV news reporter, Hunter practiced reading newspaper articles in front of her bathroom mirror. When that became too easy, Hunter read the ingredient list from an empty laundry detergent box — words like “polyethyleneimine ethoxylate” and “alkyldimethylamine oxide” — until she didn’t stumble over a single syllable.

After graduating from high school in 1980, Hunter went to Northeast Missouri State University — now Truman State — to major in communications. The self-proclaimed “nerdy girl” found that college, with all of its distractions, was a bigger challenge than she anticipated.

“I had always made good grades; I never really had to study or apply myself,” Hunter says. “I did OK at Northeast in the beginning, but then I noticed boys. And there were parties.”

‘You would be perfect!’

After two years in Kirksville, Hunter returned to St. Louis to work at a United Way agency, helping administer a job-preparedness training program for ex-convicts. In 1995, after stints at Graybar Electric and Coors Brewing Co., Hunter joined TWA as a reservations sales agent. In 1996, she became a gate agent — a job tailored to Hunter, an organized, problem-solving people person.

“There was always something going on, whether it was crazy co-workers or crazy passengers,” Hunter says. “Every time there was a concert or wrestling in town, we’d meet celebrities.” Hunter’s customers at TWA included Patty LaBelle, Hulk Hogan and Steven Segal.

After American Airlines purchased TWA in 2001, Hunter lost her seniority and, two years later, her job.

A friend of Hunter’s who worked at WUSTL sent her a job listing for a customer service representative for Parking & Transportation Services. Duties included administering parking permits and answering phone calls and e-mails regarding parking on campus. Highlighted was the phrase “must be able to deal with irritated customers.”

“You would be perfect for this!” the friend told Hunter.

She was right.

‘100 percent effort’

Hunter was promoted to transportation operations supervisor in 2004 to manage the university’s new U-Pass program. One of her first actions was to organize education initiatives to help the campus community learn about its new benefit.

The initiatives worked. The program soon became so successful that WUSTL servers crashed soon after U-Pass renewal reminder e-mails were sent, as thousand of employees tried to renew their passes at once.

Hunter now coordinates renewal with Information Services & Technology — one of the many steps on the detailed timeline she has developed for the U-Pass renewal process each year.

Hunter’s newest project is Bearly Drivers, a carpool program established this past January. Through the program, full-time employees of the Danforth, North and West campuses can form a carpool. Carpoolers buy a parking permit for a reduced rate and have access to convenient parking spots, receive two free permits a month, and enter to win prizes.

Hunter’s creativity and follow-through helped turn Bearly Drivers from an idea to reality.

“Stephanie has the ability to think outside the box,” says Nick Stoff, director of Parking & Transportation Services. “She would come up with ideas we hadn’t even thought of — and administrators of carpool programs at other universities hadn’t thought of — to make Bearly Drivers user-friendly and affordable.”

The success of both the Bearly Drivers and the U-Pass programs helps the university better fulfill its teaching and research mission, says Steve Hoffner, associate vice chancellor for operations.

“Reducing the number of people traveling to campus in personal vehicles increases the space WUSTL can devote to classroom, labs and offices rather than parking spaces,” Hoffner says. “It also helps the university meet its sustainability goals by reducing carbon emissions from daily vehicle use by employees and students.”

Hunter’s conscientious management of these important programs — as well as her cheerful dependability — has made Hunter an indispensable member of the transportation office, Hoffner says.

“Stephanie can always be counted on to give her job 100 percent effort,” Hoffner says. “Though Stephanie takes her job seriously, she has a frequent smile or laugh — she is easily and instantly likeable and genuinely cares about others.”

Fast facts about Stephanie Hunter

Family: Daughter, Roma, 21
Born in: St. Louis. Hunter also has lived in Kirksville, Mo., and Golden, Colo.
Lives in: North St. Louis County. “I bought a house a few years ago,” Hunter says. “I just finished renovating the kitchen. My dad and I did it all ourselves in three months. It turned out really well!”
Favorite sport to watch on TV: Football. Hunter’s two teams are the St. Louis Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers. When they are playing each other, though, Hunter says she pulls for the Rams — “bless their little hearts.”