Erin Stephens’ office door is almost always open.   

As the director of human resources at the Life Sciences Institute, she strives to provide outstanding service — a quality that led to her winning U-M’s 2019 Candace J. Johnson Award for Staff Excellence.

Headshot of Erin Stephens
Erin Stephens

The award honors staff members who are committed to professionalism, teamwork and fostering a supportive environment in the workplace. It is named in memory of Candy Johnson, a deeply valued and well-liked employee of the Office of the Provost who died in 2003.

Anna Schork, the managing director of LSI, wrote in a nomination letter that Stephens is both a team player and a leader. She said she “outshines expectations.”   

“Over her tenure with LSI, which started with the origination of the institute in 2002, Erin has progressively proven to be an effective, efficient and integral part of the success of our unit,” Schork said.

About 400 people, including faculty, staff, postdoctoral research fellows, graduate and undergraduate students and visiting scholars, work in LSI at any given time. A big part of Stephens’ job involves onboarding and offboarding employees. She and her team of two other human resources professionals also handle visas and immigration issues, important areas for an institute that draws researchers from all over the world. 

Stephens said she loves her work.

“We are a 24/7 building. I’ve always made it a policy that I make myself available at all hours, (even) during holidays. To me, that’s providing top-notch service to our faculty, who are top-notch,” Stephens said.

“I want people to know they can come to me, and rely on me, and I’m listening and I’m here. I pride myself on that.”

Stephens will be honored at a reception Jan. 31.

“I’m absolutely shocked, but obviously super happy,” she said, adding that she feels blessed to have great co-workers and supervisors.

Stephens’ career at U-M started in 1998 as a secretary in the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs. She moved to the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel in 2000. She was promoted the following year to an executive secretary.

In 2002, Stephens joined the newly created LSI as an administrative associate to the managing director. In 2004, she transitioned to overseeing human resources for the institute and in 2008, was promoted to LSI’s director of human resources. 

Those who nominated Stephens for the award cited her diligence, reliability and willingness to help others.

Schork said Stephens is highly knowledgeable about human resources policies.

“She handles numerous programs and a complexity of topics with a resulting impact on LSI decision making, including those affecting financial and personnel management,” she said. 

Ken Inoki, Roger C. Wiggins Collegiate Professor of the Life Sciences and research associate professor in LSI, and associate professor of internal medicine and molecular and integrative physiology in the Medical School, compared Stephens’ support to “AAA road service” because it is available around-the-clock. He recalled a glitch with a visa renewal in 2004 that left him and his family stuck in Canada, unable to return to the United States.

He sent Stephens an email on a Friday night asking for help. 

“Over the weekend, Erin contacted me many times and faxed numerous documents to us to prove the validity of our application,” Inoki said. “Finally, with these documents, the U.S. Embassy issued our new visa. I still remember that she embraced me and said, ‘Welcome back,’ when we arrived at the LSI afterward.”

Another colleague, human resources generalist Leigh Ann Koepp, said faculty and staff appreciate Stephens’ compassion and dependability.

“She will be the first to acknowledge a job well done and will point that out and encourage you,” Koepp said. “She makes herself an example of giving the best customer service and giving her all to all that are around her. I see it, I appreciate it and it makes me want to top myself, to do better.”

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