Friends and colleagues remember Mary Shojai for her transformational leadership, unwavering professionalism and fierce dedication to the rights of people with disabilities.
Mary Shojai, director of Student Disability Services, died Sunday, leaving a lasting impact at San Diego State University, where she worked for 37 years.
Members of her staff said they will remember Shojai not only for her many exceptional accomplishments, but the manner in which she achieved success.
Describing her, they used the words determined; disciplined; professional; admired; loved.
“She was a transformational leader,” a colleague said. “She got things done.”
Shojai held leadership roles across campus and for the CSU, advocating on behalf of students with disabilities. Her position required involvement in many facets of campus operations, from facilities to technology to instruction.
“During Mary’s time at San Diego State, she demonstrated an unwavering commitment to serving the office of Student Disability Services and the greater San Diego community,” said James R. Kitchen, vice president for Student Affairs. “For this, she has our eternal gratitude. Please keep Mary and her family in your thoughts and prayers.”
One longtime coworker said, “No matter who you talked to on this campus, when you told people who you work for, you’d get an amazing reaction. ‘You work for Mary Shojai – you’re lucky.’ She just had this gentle strength to bring out the best in people.”
Shojai secured and administered multi-million dollar federal and state grants that paid for additional staff and critical services for students with disabilities.
“Mary’s impact is felt not only for initiating these grants, but also for incorporating them into the fabric of what we do,” a coworker said.
Above all, she served students.
One colleague said, “It’s one thing to be passionate, but she really knew what she was talking about, whether it was technology, the law or the services we provided.
“And she remembered everyone. She’d run into a student who worked with her years ago and she would remember their name and give them a big hug.”
In 2011, Shojai received the SDSU Staff Diversity Award, which was presented to her by Aaron Bruce, SDSU's chief diversity officer.
"Mary represents a beacon in the community; We should all aspire to be like her," Bruce said. "She was an amazing advocate for diversity and inclusion. Every day, Mary worked to insure that the rights of all students were respected and supported.
"Mary helped us understand disability as diversity and the important value everyone brings to our campus and the world.
"She taught us that our campus belongs to our entire community, and the barriers to success – no matter how small – are everyone’s responsibility to address. She will clearly be missed by our entire campus community."
Coworkers described Shojai’s many talents and unique sense of humor.
At a recent holiday party, Shojai, an accomplished cellist and organist, joined a colleague playing Bach on kazoos.
“She wasn’t the type of administrator who was heavy-handed or uptight. She would say, ‘We live here together, we work hard and we’re going to enjoy ourselves.”
A longtime friend said the community has lost a unique soul.
"I have no doubt Mary was aware how much she was loved and respected. And she gave it right back to us."
Shojai is survived by her father, Russell Stemm; her brother and sister, Carl and Cathy Stemm; her son, David Shojai, and his wife, Sarah de Diego; her daughter, Mina Moynehan, and her daughter's husband, Keith Moynehan, and their son, Carter Moynehan.