People of Washington: Amanda Pope – The Source
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who embodies Washington University’s mission in St. Louis better than Amanda Pope. She genuinely cares about the people of the university and the development of leaders on campus. Patient care is also very important to her.
She had direct contact with university staff as Director of Human Resources Communications and Employee Engagement. Pope takes this responsibility seriously, saying it’s his job to take care of WashU employees. And now, she has stepped into a new role: Special Advisor to Shantay Bolton, Executive Vice Chancellor for Administration and Chief Administrative Officer, effective February 1.
Pope’s experience as a university employee and patient takes her commitment to another level.
“I really have a special place in my heart for WashU because of what they do for people like me,” Pope said.
Almost 12 years ago, Pope was in his mid-twenties, prosperous and working in a marketing position at Saint Louis University. As she pursued her Masters in Business Administration and prepared to study abroad in Madrid, she realized something was wrong with her health.
After a blood test, she was rushed to the emergency room and discovered that she was severely anemic. Later, additional tests revealed that she had leukemia and she began treatment at the Siteman Cancer Center.
“I had to deal with a lot of health issues, every illness you can imagine,” Pope recalls. “It was really scary to have your life in front of you, but it was put in jeopardy at a young age.”
She underwent several rounds of chemotherapy while waiting for a bone marrow transplant. No one in his family was compatible.
Siteman’s doctors, clinicians and staff became his extended family during this time. Even in her toughest days, she was able to make personal connections with her suppliers.
“They are truly a gift in your life as they help you through one of the hardest things you will ever face,” Pope said. “I have a lot of different touchpoints in college personally and professionally through this experience.”
She was hospitalized for six months until a compatible transplant was found in Europe through the International Bone Marrow Registry.
From suffering to survival
Pope’s bone marrow transplant day was a momentous occasion. Remarkably, she mustered the strength to put on a fancy wig and outfit. She refers to this day as her “day of rebirth”.
Her whole family was there to support her on July 20, 2010, which also turned out to be a life-changing day for them.
“My mother lived next to me in the hospital room for the six months,” Pope said. “She always believed that I would survive and was very strong in prayer with me. We walked the halls every day in the hospital. I carry that with me – I know she does – because I think when you have family there to support you, that’s the key to survival.
The recovery process after cancer treatment is not easy. She still sees the WashU healthcare team to monitor and manage her health. Pope’s commitment to helping others live full lives keeps him moving forward. Today, she is a speaker for the Siteman Cancer Center and is a Marrow Mate, supporting other patients going through a similar journey.
His sister, Justine Zehnle, also a university employee, is proud of Pope’s ability to carry on despite the obstacles she has had to overcome.
“Amanda approaches everything she faces with courage and grace,” said Zehnle, a digital marketing and communications specialist in alumni relations. “Even in her darkest times of leukemia and transplant, Amanda never lost her faith or her smile.”
A human person at heart
The eldest of two daughters, Pope has always been an ambitious person. Her father is an architect and her mother worked in a newspaper. From a young age, she combined the skills and values she learned related to creativity, writing, hard work and caring. She was the editor of her high school yearbook and was involved in many organizations.
Pope attended the University of Missouri-Columbia as a journalism major. After working as Missouri Press Foundation Interning at a local newspaper, she turned from broadcast journalism to a multi-faceted career.
“People have always been at the heart of what I’ve done,” Pope said. “I find the connection between people, communications and engagement to be a good mix of my passion and also my skills for working with others.”
After working at Saint Louis University for a time, she started her own consulting firm during a brief stint in Philadelphia. While working with various companies and startups, she felt the need to return to the mission of higher education. After her experience as a cancer survivor, she knew she wanted to work for WashU in some way and give back to the university that had given her a second chance at life. She applied to join the Office of Human Resources, was offered the job and started her career here in 2014.
A champion for employees
After a conversation with Pope, one understands why she is one of the outstanding leaders of the university. Even in the era of Zoom calls, her love for college folks and her mission leaps on display.
“Amanda is one of the most endearing and compassionate people I know,” said Katy Henke, HR communications specialist. “After my interview, I knew I wanted to work for her – she actually cried during my Zoom interview, so it was easy to tell how passionate she was from day one. As a leader, manager and colleague, she truly understands work-life integration and helps WashU employees grow professionally and personally.
In her role at the university, Pope constantly seeks to reciprocate the care she received as a patient to those who work at WashU. His consideration for others shines through, especially in this time of uncertainty.
She and her team supported employees with wellness and wellness programs tailored to their needs. These efforts have not gone unnoticed: Forbes ranked the university as Missouri’s Top Employer for 2021.
“I think we see now, more than before, how much we need to build that strength from the inside out, that’s how we best help others,” Pope said. “I know this will continue. I saw so much hope coming from the leadership and all of us working together and reaching out to support people.
Hope for the future
Since going through what she calls a “personal pandemic” while in hospital, Pope has been able to empathize with others navigating isolation and fear for the first time.
She credits her perseverance to her faith in God and her ability to let go of what she cannot control. She plans to start each day with prayer and meditation so she can pour out to others.
“That’s why, during the pandemic, it’s been such a passion for me to join with our mental health professionals, our faculty, HR staff and our management to reflect on how we take caring for the people who are on the front lines, or indeed in any branch of our business, because I know how much they carry every day.
Pope encourages everyone at the university, including leaders, to take a moment to care for themselves while continuing to care for others.
She finds peace in nature, especially at the Missouri Botanical Garden. The captivating landscape is a far cry from the walls of her hospital room. Her capacity for introspection allows her to appreciate the opportunities that are offered to her and to cherish the moments of everyday life.
“Amanda reminds us that we all have struggles that aren’t always easy to see from the outside,” said Rebecca L. Brown, Vice Chancellor and Chief of Staff to Chancellor Andrew Martin. “But more than that, she reminds us how each of us can take what we’ve been through, good or bad, and apply what we’ve learned in a way that improves the community and everyone around us. We all have that in us, and I’m grateful that Amanda is there to remind us.