LaShel (Brown) Stevens, the business manager in the Department of Biochemistry & Cellular and Molecular Biology (BCMB), draws on her Marine Corps experience and her 26 years at UT to solve problems and get things done. The hugs are a bonus.
“My job entails whatever needs to be done,” she said, adding that her responsibilities include helping develop the department budget; working with human resources to post staff, post-doc and undergrad positions; processing the paperwork for new faculty hires; handling grants and contracts; managing equipment and space; and supervising departmental staff.
Amid all of that, she tries to stay focused on people.
“When I came to this department, I wanted a family feel. I wanted our grad students to feel like they had a place to come to if they needed a place to talk or needed help. I have students come in and just get a hug because they’re having a bad day.”
Stevens was born in Washington state and raised in North Dakota by a single mom, a 5-foot-2 spitfire who juggled multiple jobs to take care of her daughter.
“She was one tough cookie,” Stevens said.
The family moved around a lot and Stevens spent a lot of time as the “new kid” at school. She remembers being bullied, and those painful experiences made her even more intent on treating others well.
“It doesn’t matter skin color, nationality, where you’re from, gay or straight, rich or poor. We have to treat everyone the same,” she said. “People are important. And they have to know they’re appreciated.”
She enlisted in the Marines in October 1985. A communications supervisor, she was stationed in Japan for 2.5 years and spent time in California, New Orleans, and South Carolina.
After leaving the military in 1994, Stevens and her first husband moved to Knoxville. She said she was unsure what to do next.
When an unemployment counselor suggested the UT temp pool, Stevens immediately walked over to UT, did the required typing test, and signed on. Within days, she was hired to work in the old independent study office, a job she’d hold for three years.
Aside from a short stint working for a military equipment installation company, Stevens has stayed at UT. Before landing at BCMB, she worked in the Department of Nuclear Engineering, the Social Work Office of Research & Public Service (SWORPS), and the Office of Research, Innovation & Economic Development.
“I like to come to work every day. I love my job even though some days I start a do-to list and never get to anything on that list,” she said.
Although she’s been asked to consider promotions and other jobs, she’s elected to stay put.
“I’m a very loyal person. I don’t like to bounce from one job to the next,” she said. “I know I’m appreciated here. My opinions count for something.”
Stevens received the college’s outstanding financial support award in 2017 and the BCMB nontechnical staff award in 2019 and 2020.
Nominators noted both her nurturing nature and her get-it-done demeanor.
“She supports student veterans who return to full-time higher education and research after years of serving our county in the military. A veteran herself, LaShel tremendously helps them transition to a different life,” one person wrote.
Another said simply, “She makes administrative and support miracles happen on a daily basis.”
Stevens and her husband, Chris, wed in October 2022. Together, they have six children, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
–Story by Amy Blakely