Joan Sweeney ‘cared deeply about helping students’

September 28, 2016 By Will Hoverman

To Joan Sweeney, work-study jobs meant a lot more than just a paycheck.

She helped pay for her own education at UW–Madison as a student employee in the Work-Study office. And she stayed in the office for more than 40 years, touching generations of students with her advocacy, advice and good humor.

“Joan was passionate and charismatic. She cared deeply about helping students, particularly first generation students and ones from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds,” says Cori Splain, who herself was hired by Sweeney as a student and now works full time as a business analyst in the Office of Student Financial Aid. “She utilized her commanding presence to advocate for such students on campus whenever possible.”

Joan Sweeney

Joan Sweeney

Sweeney, who retired as the university’s Work-Study coordinator in December, died Sept. 21. She was 59.

She began working full time for the university in 1978. Her primary job duty was to run the off-campus Work-Study Program, which coordinates the employment of more than 300 students each year at nonprofit organizations in Madison. In addition, she mentored many students, receiving accolades from the Center for Educational Opportunity and the Posse Program for her impact on students.

Sweeney always had an open-door policy for students looking for advice on work, life and anything in between, Splain says. Through the financial aid office, Sweeney helped students find employment across campus.

“In the age of email, she believed being able to make a personal connection with a possible employer by delivering your resume in-person could set you apart from the rest. Not only did Joan give this advice to students looking for jobs, she abided by its wisdom,” Splain says.

Beyond being a champion for students, Sweeney also had a deep love for Rottweilers; she was fostering 30 of them when she passed. She directed Wisconsin Rottweiler Rescue for more than 25 years.

A celebration of Sweeney’s life will take place on Friday, Sept. 30, at the Sheraton Hotel on John Nolen Drive in Madison from 4 to 8 p.m.