Update: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed that the meningococcal infection that killed Ross is serogroup B meningococcus, the same subtype identified in a recent Princeton University outbreak.
Stephanie L. Ross, a sophomore mechanical engineering student and sister of the Phi Mu sorority, Beta Tau chapter, died of meningitis at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center March 10.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to Stephanie’s family and friends,” President John A. Fry wrote in an email to students and staff on the morning of March 11. “Dean of Students David Ruth and I are in close contact with her parents during this incredibly sad and difficult time. The death of a fellow student has a deep impact on a close-knit community like ours.”
A frequent fundraiser for charities and supporter of Greek life events, Ross had recently pledged to cut her hair for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation at an event to be held March 14. Ross also was involved with raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network through Phi Mu. She pledged Phi Mu during the fall of her freshman year. Ross spent some time as a member of Drexel’s club softball team but eventually decided to focus on schoolwork. She was also a member of the Society of Women Engineers.
Ross started at Drexel in the fall of 2012 and was from Pittsburgh. She graduated from St. Clair High School and was a National Merit Scholar.
Pelagia Papathomas, one of Ross’ best friends and a sister of Phi Mu, described Ross as “ So unapologetically herself, so unfalteringly real. … She was athletic, brilliant, witty, charming, compassionate, beyond adjectives. She was simply Steph Ross.”
Papthomas and Ross met when they pledged Phi Mu together and became fast friends. Papathomas described Ross as more than empathetic, that she had a knack for telling how people were feeling without even talking to them.
“Steph also never took herself too seriously. She harbored an intense love for cat memorabilia and queso dip, unapologetically enjoyed ‘embarrassing pop music’ and was always willing to laugh at her preference for sleeping on floors rather than furniture,” Papathomas said.
Ross would have celebrated her 20th birthday March 15. The sisters of Phi Mu are hosting a balloon release for 8 a.m. on that day at Drexel Park. Phi Mu directly invited the rest of the Greek community but anyone is welcome to attend.
Drexel sources said that Ross was found by housemates inside her room in the Phi Mu house and that she was transported to the local hospital. The Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s office confirmed that the severe bloodstream infection meningococcemia caused the death.
“We are taking all necessary precautions,” Fry wrote, “including seeking out those who were in close contact with Stephanie to provide prophylactic antibiotics, and we are working closely with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.”
Leslie Everts, director of the Student Health Center, said that Ross’ family had been informed of the cause of death.
The bacteria can be transmitted through close personal contact such as coughing, kissing, sharing drinks or spending an extended amount of time in close proximity with a person. Symptoms can include high fever, headaches and a stiff neck developing over a period of several hours to two days.
Fry encouraged anyone who felt like they were at risk to contact the Student Health Center immediately by calling 215-220-4700 or visiting the location at 3401 Market Street. Prophylactic antibiotics were being made available at the health center.
An outpouring of support was posted to the Phi Mu Facebook page from around the Drexel community.
“Thoughts and Prayers going out to Phi Mu — Beta Tau,” Drexel Interfraternity Council posted.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the sisters of Phi Mu — Beta Tau. Your Drexel Greeks are here for you in this hard time,” AlphaChi Rho posted to Facebook.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the women of Phi Mu — Beta Tau. We, as well as the entire Greek Community, are here for you,” LambdaChi Drexel wrote.
The Counseling Center is always available to members of the community, especially in times of need. The Counseling Center can be reached by calling 215-895-1415, or at 215-416-3337 outside of regular business hours.