This Sullivan Award Recipient Is Also a Gymnastics Star at Auburn University

As a senior on the Auburn University gymnastics team, Meredith Sylvia is a standout on the beam, but sports isn’t her only passion: She’s also a dedicated community servant leader and one of three recipients of the prestigious 2021 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, which honors students who place service above self.

Meet the other recipients of Auburn University’s 2021 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award.

Sylvia, who hails from Macungie, Pa., recently finished her time on the Plains as one of the gymnastics program’s most consistent beam workers, having competed in the event in all but two meets throughout her four-year career. The multiple SEC Academic Honor Roll honoree has also been a staple in the Auburn community since she arrived on the Plains in 2017, serving hundreds of people in greater Lee County.

Most recently, she has dedicated many hours to the Lee County Humane Society. With the restrictions that came from the COVID pandemic, Sylvia sought out other ways she could help the community and became a foster home volunteer, taking in animals from the local shelter. To this day, she has fostered animals that need homes and provided relief to over-flowing shelters in the area. Sylvia has cared for more than 20 different animals since the pandemic started last spring.


Prior to the pandemic, Sylvia spent many hours with local elementary and middle school students. The aspiring middle school teacher worked with Our House, a non-profit that provides resources to underprivileged families, tutoring and mentoring middle school and elementary students by providing help with classwork. In addition, she encouraged positive behavior and excitement for learning.

Related: Auburn’s Sullivan Award recipients are part of a proud lineage dating back 70 years

Sylvia had also served the community on many occasions with her team as well as the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. With the team, she has participated in the yearly Auburn Downtown Trick or Treat event, where athletes greeted fans and passed out candy to kids. Sylvia has also spent time with local elementary students, showcasing gymnastics skills and encouraging the importance of exercise. She has been involved in a handful of Habitat for Humanity service projects through Auburn SAAC. She volunteered in 2017 and then served as the coordinator of the service project in 2019.

Sylvia will graduate with a degree in conservation biology at the end of the spring 2021 semester. She plans on earning a Master of Arts in teaching and hopes to become a middle school science teacher.

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award has been presented at Auburn since 1951 as a reminder of the noblest human qualities exemplified by Algernon Sydney Sullivan, a prominent humanitarian and first president of the New York Southern Society, now the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation. Each year, Auburn bestows the honor on one male and one female student from the graduating class.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the Auburn Tigers website.

Esteemed Professor, Two Students Receive 2021 Sullivan Award from Auburn University

By Neal Reid, Auburn University

A highly esteemed professor and a pair of exemplary students at Sullivan Foundation partner school Auburn University have been selected as the 2021 recipients of the prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award.

Political Science Professor Steven Brown and College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM) students William Illiano and Meredith Sylvia are this year’s recipients of the award, which is given annually by the university to individuals who embody high qualities and nobility of character.

Related: Auburn’s Sullivan Award recipients are part of a proud lineage dating back 70 years

Brown is the Morris Savage Endowed Chair for the Department of Political Science in the College of Liberal Arts (CLA). Illiano is a biomedical sciences major, and Sylvia is majoring in organismal biology.

Steven Brown—an Auburn professor since 1998—recently won the Award for Excellence in Faculty Outreach as part of Auburn’s 2020 Faculty Awards. He is an expert in everything from constitutional law and church-and-state issues to the Supreme Court and American legal history. He was the inaugural recipient of the Auburn University Parents Association’s Faculty Award in 2018.

Brown is a National Society of Collegiate Scholars Faculty of the Year Award recipient, is heavily involved in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute as an instructor and guest lecturer and is an award-winning writer who has been published regularly since 2002. He received the National Communication Association’s Franklyn S. Haiman Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Freedom of Expression in 2005 for his book, “Trumping Religion: The New Christian Right, The Free Speech Clause and the Courts.”

Brown’s article, “The Girard Will and Twin Landmarks of Supreme Court History,” received the Supreme Court Historical Society’s 2017 Hughes-Gossett Senior Prize, which was awarded by Chief Justice John Roberts. Earlier this year, Brown’s book, “Alabama Justice: The Cases and Faces That Changed a Nation”—the companion book to his award-winning traveling exhibition—was awarded the Anne B. and James B. McMillian Prize in Southern History, and the exhibit was named a finalist for the 2020 Silver Gavel Award for Media and the Arts by the American Bar Association.

William Illiano

William Illiano, an Honors College member, has been awarded the Spirit of Auburn Presidential scholarship, served as president of Campus Kitchens and performed as an alto saxophonist in the Auburn University Marching Band and saxophone jazz band.

Related: Meet Auburn University’s 2020 Sullivan Award recipients

Illiano, who is from Fairhope, Alabama, has participated in a National Institutes of Health-funded study investigating racial disparities in health and sleep and has made the Dean’s List every semester since fall 2017. After graduation, he will become part of the Class of 2025 at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine.

Meredith Sylvia

Meredith Sylvia was a standout four-year member of the Auburn gymnastics team and was named to the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll from 2018-20. She served as a research volunteer in Placencia, Belize, where she surveyed local reefs and helped extract invasive lionfish.

Sylvia, who hails from Macungie, Pennsylvania, has dedicated herself to helping younger students by participating in Our House—a program that helps middle school students and provides encouragement and positive behavior for learning. After graduation, Sylvia plans to earn a Master of Arts in teaching and become a middle school science teacher.

Related: Read more about Meredith Sylvia’s commitment to serving others here.

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award has been presented at Auburn since 1951 as a reminder of the noblest human qualities exemplified by Algernon Sydney Sullivan, a prominent humanitarian and first president of the New York Southern Society, now the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation. Each year, Auburn bestows the honor on one male and one female student from the graduating class and this year also honored Brown as an exemplary faculty member.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the Auburn University website.


Julie Copeland: Time Can Be Your Greatest Ally and Your Worst Enemy

Julie Copeland
1998 Mary Mildred Sullivan Award Recipient
Wofford College

Since receiving the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award as a senior at Wofford College, Julie Copeland (pictured above with her husband) went on to live a truly stellar life of service in addition to her successful career in human resources. She shares some wisdom about using your time wisely, both in your own day-to-day life and as a gift you offer to others.

Were you surprised to receive the Sullivan Award? What do you think you did to receive the award?

I was most surprised and also absolutely delighted! I think my involvement on campus as a leader in various organizations, including serving as Panhellenic President and being a Bonner Scholar, led to my consideration for the award.

Tell us about your career and what you do now. How did you choose your career? Why did you go into this particular field?

I’m an HR executive. I chose the HR profession because I feel that human capital is an organization’s greatest asset, and, hence, I wanted to have an influence and impact on people.

Are you involved with any community service or community outreach now?

I am heavily involved in my community and have served on numerous professional and civic boards. Giving back through my time and treasure has shaped me as a leader in countless, positive ways. I am a director with the National League of Junior Cotillions. I also serve as a trustee with the Greensboro History Museum and was past board chair and president. I’m president of the Belle Meade Society, a former trustee of the Greensboro Public Library, a past president of the Junior League of Greensboro, past chair of Guilford Technical Community College’s Business and Advisory Board, and a former board member of the Human Resources Management Association of Greensboro.

The Foundation promotes positive social change in its programming and overall message. What are some social issues that matter most to you today?

Education, work and occupations and public health.

If pressed to give one piece of advice to younger people, what would you tell them?

Appreciate your time. It can and will be your greatest ally and your worst enemy. Covet your time as a very important treasure. Time is a gift. Gift your time in ways that make a difference. Spend your time very wisely. Invest your time with people and priorities that matter. Honor your time. Respect others’ time. Above all, make your time count.

Rafael Egues, Jr.: We’re All Unique and Important Pieces of a Larger Puzzle

Rafael Egues, Jr.
1981 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award Recipient
Auburn University

Now a consultant specializing in guiding professional associations to greater success, Rafael Egues, Jr., the son of Cuban immigrants, arrived at Auburn as “a fish out of water.” By the time he graduated, he was a Sullivan Award winner with a commitment to service and a passion for solving the problem of homelessness. Here, he reflects on his career and talks about how every individual is an important piece of society’s great puzzle.

What do you remember most about receiving the Sullivan award?

I was very surprised. I did not know the award existed prior to being notified that I would be the recipient. I was very involved on campus and held a variety of leadership positions, particularly during my senior year. I was the first in my family to go to college and put myself through school as a co-op student. I was very grateful to Auburn for being such a wonderful place to learn, think and grow, and I just wanted to do whatever I could before graduating to make Auburn an even better place for others.

Who nominated you for the Sullivan Award?

I am not 100% sure, but I believe it was Dr. Albert W. Sistrunk, who at the time was the assistant dean of students. As a student, I looked up to him as a mentor, and we have stayed in touch over the years. I grew up in northern New Jersey, the son of Cuban immigrants. My family moved to Fort Lauderdale when I was in high school, and from there I decided to go to Auburn. Initially, I was a bit of a fish out of water but the sincere interest and timely advice of administrators, including Dr. Sistrunk, made Auburn home for five years.

Tell us about your career and what you do now.

I’m nearing retirement age now and am fortunate to do work that I love as the owner and managing partner of a consulting firm that specializes in providing administrative services to professional associations. I started my career in the electric utility industry and later worked in the healthcare field, where I spent a decade rehabilitating failing health plans and selling them. I’ve also been the vice president for public and community affairs for a publicly traded staffing firm, and I spent a year doing consulting work in Europe. I suppose the common denominator is that I was always eager to take on a challenge. I have been blessed with the ability to see and make the needed adjustments to improve operations and to inspire others to accomplish more.

What service opportunities have you been involved with during your career?

I have been involved with many not-for-profit organizations over the years. As I was growing up, my parents instilled in my brothers and me a love and appreciation for America and a sense of duty to country and community. Early in my career, I volunteered at the Latin American Association in Atlanta and became its board chairman, helping to transform it from a very small mom-and-pop and set it on a course to becoming a large nonprofit.

Shortly after moving to Miami, I was asked to help give structure to the humanitarian effort that became Brothers to the Rescue. I later joined the board of Spectrum Programs, the region’s largest drug rehab agency, which soon afterwards acquired Miami Behavioral Health and subsequently became Banyan Health Systems. Banyan then achieved certification as a federally qualified health center. I chaired the Spectrum Board and was the first chair of the Banyan Board and the Banyan Foundation board. After a decade of service at Banyan, I served for eight years on the board of the Miami Dade County Homeless Trust as the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce designee. I also organized the health committee of the American Staffing Association. Today, I am most involved in serving the needy and the handicapped as a member and leader in the Knights of Columbus.

The Foundation promotes positive social change in its programming and overall message. What are some social issues that matter most to you today?

I have been very involved in efforts addressing mental health, substance abuse and homelessness. But I am most passionate about combating hopelessness. I take advantage of opportunities to mentor, inspire and unite others to help them achieve more than they can achieve alone.

If pressed to give one piece of advice to younger people, what would you tell them?

We are all puzzle pieces, and each of us is a unique and therefore important piece. We are all better together. Take time to consider what you have to offer. Don’t be afraid to take on any challenge that tugs at your heart and build. Be a builder and know that you can’t build companies or organizations or communities or anything meaningful without uniting and building up others.

Changemakers Can Leap Back into Action With Sullivan’s Summer Leadership Workshops in May

With an end to the pandemic in sight at last, college changemakers are ready to leap back into action, and the Sullivan Foundation will help them get started with a 10-day summer workshop series this May.

Sullivan’s Summer Workshops for Leadership and Transformative Action will be held May 18-28 in Greenville, S.C. College credit can be earned through OM Study USA. The program costs $1,500, which covers lodging, food and adventures in Greenville and in Asheville, N.C.

Click here to learn more and sign up for the Summer Workshops for Leadership and Transformative Action.

The workshops are designed for all majors and for recent graduates. They will offer learning outcomes that stimulate deep reflection and transform the educational experience. Students will gain knowledge in cutting-edge concepts to develop their leadership skills and create transformative action plans that pull together converging concepts and practices to provide innovative solutions to real-world problems.

The program’s workshops include:

Workshop 1
Foundations of Leadership: Approaches, Applications and Self-Development

Through self-assessment questionnaires, students will gain an awareness of their own leadership philosophy, traits, skills and behaviors. Real-world observation exercises will help them better understand the fundamental methods practiced in organizations, while reflection and action activities will give them an understanding of and appreciation for the unique dimensions of their own leadership style.

Workshop II
Community Engagement and Problem Analysis

Students will identify a community-based problem, link it to a broader issue and draft a strategy for addressing the problem through a project. They’ll learn how to develop a public narrative, build asset and power maps, forge partnerships and draft a project plan for use back on campus to practice their community-engaged leadership skills.

Workshop III
Business Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Design Thinking

Students will learn about organizational structures while gaining an understanding of internal processes that affect the function of organizations. They will also come away with an understanding of ideas, skills and strategies for effective changemaking in the 21st century.

To round out their summer adventure, students will go on excursions to Asheville, N.C., for whitewater rafting on the French Broad River, a tour of the Biltmore and a mountaintop zipline tour while also exploring downtown Asheville and Greenville.

Students Learn to Supercharge Their Lives and Careers in Skills-Based Sessions This April

If you’re a college student, classroom learning is obviously a must, but there are some important lessons for a successful life you can’t glean from a textbook or a professor’s lecture. Fortunately, the Sullivan Foundation’s next series of free online sessions will provide the real-world guidance that you’re looking for.

Throughout April 2021, Reagan Pugh, co-founder of Assemble, will host the foundation’s new Skills-Based Sessions, a unique virtual series featuring workshop activities that will help you achieve your personal goals and live the kind of productive and meaningful life you’ve always wanted. From choosing a career to networking and storytelling, these interactive sessions will help you super-charge your future while receiving advice from and connecting deeply with more than a dozen coaches and social change experts, including fellow college students, nonprofit leaders and social entrepreneurs.

The sessions are free and open to the public, starting on Wednesday, April 7, and running through Friday, April 30. Check out the schedule below and register for the first session today!

Click here for full descriptions of each session. (Scroll down to Skills-Based Sessions.)

Wednesday, April 7
12 noon-1:15 p.m. (ET)
How to Actually Figure Out the Right Career for You
Go through our guided reflection exercises, then learn how to create mini-experiments that will help you rapidly experience various careers before you ever apply for a job.
Click here to register.

Friday, April 16
12 noon-1:15 p.m. (ET)
How to Stop Wasting Time and Focus on What Matters Most
You’ll finally get clear on what distracts you, reflect on the areas that deserve your attention and learn strategies to prioritize your day and spend your energy wisely.
Click here to register.

Wednesday, April 21
12 noon-1:15 p.m. (ET)
How to Tell Your Story and Enlist Others in Your Cause

Discover the right mindsets you’ll need to tell your story and talk about who you are and what you want with confidence, plus discover strategies to help you reflect on your life and your future path to success.
Click here to register.

Friday, April 30
12 noon-1:15 p.m. (ET)
How to Network and Get Mentors in a Virtual World

Most of us are confused about how to network and receive guidance in today’s virtual landscape, but it’s not complicated. In this session, you’ll walk away with new strategies to build relationships, a short list of people you want to learn from and a plan to create more meaningful interactions in the future.
Click here to register.

Reagan Pugh

About Reagan Pugh
As co-founder of Assemble, Reagan Pugh has delivered workshops and keynote speeches on personal effectiveness and leadership development around the country. Prior to the launch of Assemble, he was chief storyteller for the innovation consulting firm, Kalypso, and guided initiatives on storytelling, culture and leadership development at companies like Nike, Pepsico and Kimberly Clark.

Pugh is a past workshop facilitator at the Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreats and has designed leadership courses for Texas State University, Trinity University and Angelo State University.

Pugh also led the Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Masterclass session titled “Developing Empathy as a Tool for Social Justice,” held on October 6, 2020.

Meet Our Coaches

Sam Vaghar
Sam Vaghar is a social entrepreneur committed to helping young people own their voice and power for social impact. With over a decade of impact co-founding and leading the Millennium Campus Network (MCN), Sam has helped launch the Millennium Fellowship, a student movement for the UN Sustainable Development Goals in 20 nations. He has given talks at more than 100 institutions worldwide, including at Harvard University, MIT, the White House, the United Nations, the Vatican, and on speaking tours across four nations for the U.S. Department of State. He serves on multiple boards, including as an advisor to the Executive Director of UN Women.

Dustin Liu
Dustin Liu currently serves as the ninth U.S. Youth Observer to the United Nations, where he strives to engage young Americans in the work of the UN. He is also a graduate student studying transformative learning and post-secondary education. He cares about quality education and its relationship to building the young changemakers we need to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as well as the connection between education and the future of work.

Jonathan Kibe
Jonathan Kibe, an African Leadership Academy alum, is a junior at Lynn University majoring in social entrepreneurship. His mission is to transform the mental health scene in African communities. He founded The LOVE Project, an initiative that aims to create awareness concerning mental and emotional health. As a community builder who deeply believes in the power of bringing diverse people and organizations together to achieve common goals, Jonathan’s niche lies in supporting learning and event design. He has also gained mastery in communication for impact and describes himself as a passionate storyteller, whether in his published writings, blog posts or public speaking engagements.

Ben Zapchenk
Ben Zapchenk is an online English-as-a-Second-Language teacher based in Marrakech, Morocco. He has experience living and working abroad as both an educator and as a volunteer with service organizations, including the Peace Corps. He is passionate about fighting for marginalized groups worldwide and about advancing the causes of social movements that work towards changing the systemic injustices that plague society.

Danielle Biggs
Danielle Biggs is dedicated to advancing community, education and arts initiatives that focus on stewarding equal access for all people. As an arts manager, fundraiser and marketer, she values collaboration, exploration and innovation at the nexus of the arts and humanities and social policy reform. A New Jersey native and alumna of Sullivan Foundation partner school Elon University, she is a champion of infusing the arts into community infrastructures as a means to unite and heal.

Ashley Madrigal
Born and raised in Nicaragua, Ashley Madrigal is driven by a passion for economic equality, poverty and human rights. She is a current Watson scholar and two years away from graduating as an entrepreneur. Personally affected by a 2018 political and economic crisis in which hundreds of people were killed by government forces in her native country, she aspires to create social impact and relieve the economic stress in Nicaragua. At the age of 17, she organized and gave a talk in the first TEDx event at her high school. Despite her young age, she has led a full life of community service, reporting on human rights and interning for an NGO.

Brandi Jordan
Brandi Jordan is a servant, strategist, community builder and founder of Remote Ramblers, a social enterprise that fuses creativity, craftsmanship and cultures to bring classic and timeless leather-goods from Imazighen artisans of Morocco to the global market. She also uses her blog to encourage people to take the long road around the world. In her travels, she enjoys highlighting locations and locally owned vendors that are off the beaten track of well-worn tourist routes.

Jordan Reeves
Jordan Reeves (they/she/he) is queer, trans and non-binary. A native of Hueytown, Alabama, they taught science at McWane Science Center before moving to New York in 2010, where they helped start TED-Ed, which has been viewed nearly 2 billion times online. Jordan left TED to start VideoOut, which amplifies LGBTQ+ voices and has reached millions with its message of solidarity and support, promising that “even when things aren’t getting better, you are not alone.” Jordan has produced more than 50 events around the United States, managed countless volunteers, and filmed 400 LGBTQ+ stories. They’ve worked with major brands like Hulu, Verizon, P&G and AARP to create LGBTQ+ inclusive content.

Cornetta Lane-Smith
Cornetta Lane-Smith is a mother, storyteller, and director of community impact at Detroit Narrative Agency (DNA). DNA is a community organization that disrupts harmful narratives about Detroit by supporting Black, Brown, and Indigenous storytellers in building narrative power and community liberation. At DNA, Cornetta builds and sustains strategic partnerships, connects a media project to its intended audience, and assesses the impact of the work. She is also the creator and host of Dish’D Detroit, a virtual dinner series where a cook shares a food memory and related recipe with a curated audience that prepares the featured meal at home.

Mentor Dida
Mentor Dida is an expert changemaker with a decade of experience as a social entrepreneur, leadership and wellbeing coach, and movement-building architect who helps individuals, organizations and businesses increase their impact. Before starting his own coaching business, Mentor spent five years in Washington D.C. working at Ashoka, where he organized efforts to identify, highlight and support the world’s top social entrepreneurs, corporate executives and young changemakers. He also has been consulting at the UN as a movement- building architect to push forward the Sustainable Development Goals.

Megan Truman
Megan Truman, the daughter of a single mother, started her career as a social entrepreneur at the age of 11. She co-founded Helping Hands Inc. in 2007, where she was responsible for the nonprofit’s marketing and fundraising efforts. The organization’s mission was to empower and lend a helping hand to the elderly, veterans, single moms and their children. As the company grew, Megan and her business partner struggled to balance school responsibilities and the company’s increasing demands, which resulted in the company dissolving in 2010. Since then, she has spent her life serving communities of color, women, girls and youth initiatives both in the United States and overseas. She is currently working to fight for education equity for students at City Year, D.C.

Marcela Fernandez
Marcela Fernandez is the brand ambassador for Selina, one of the world’s top startups serving the rapidly growing Digital Nomad community. She is an ambitious entrepreneur who fell in love with Selina’s concept to expand worldwide while revolutionizing the future of work, hospitality and tourism. A globetrotter who has visited 76 countries and speaks five languages, she started Glacier Nation to bring awareness and scientific research regarding glaciers melting in the USA.

Sara Hoy
Sara Hoy brings joy to teams, organizations and every project she works on. She believes it is important to put people first and foster a culture that reflects that commitment in organizations. With an extensive background in the non-profit and tech sectors, she seeks to stay curious through continuous learning, building relationships and different perspectives. Sara is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Moldova, 2014-2017) and explored life as a digital nomad for a few years before returning to Pennsylvania, where she currently consults for organizations locally and internationally.

Luz Cabrera
Originally from Guanajuato, Mexico, Luz Cabrera works in the field of applied behavior analysis. He completed his bachelor’s degree in religious studies and psychology and his master’s degree in applied behavior analysis and clinical science from Sullivan Foundation partner school Rollins College. His interests include public health, policy development and organizational management. He is also involved with Young People For, a program of People for the American Way Foundation, a national leadership development program for college-aged progressive leaders.

Auburn’s Sullivan Award Winners Are Part of a Proud Lineage Dating Back 70 Years

By Meagan Harkins

Aside from being an SEC sports powerhouse, Auburn University has been blazing new trails practically since it was founded as East Alabama Male College in 1856. It became a private liberal arts institution in 1859 and, following the Civil War, the first land-grant college in the South to be established separately from the state university (the University of Alabama). Being a land-grant college meant teaching practical working skills alongside a traditional education. With this transition, it became the premiere agricultural and mechanical college in Alabama. Additionally, the institution first admitted women in 1892, making it the second-oldest four-year coeducational school for higher education in the Southeast.

All totaled, Auburn University now boasts 250,000 graduates, including a proud lineage of 190 changemakers who have received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award since 1951. Most recently, the 2021 award went to senior Meredith Sylvia (pictured above), a member of the Auburn gymnastics team who has devoted many hours of service to the Lee County Humane Society and worked with Our House, a non-profit that provides resources to underprivileged families, tutoring and mentoring middle school and elementary students.

Tammy Beasley

Celebrating Character
Going back a little further, another Sullivan Award winner is Tammy Beasley, now serving as vice president of clinical nutrition services at Alsana, an eating disorder treatment center with locations across the country. Beasley, who received the award in 1984, trains dieticians and oversees nutrition programming for Alsana. “It’s one of those things where you feel like your whole career led up to this,” she said.

Working in the field for decades, Beasley became frustrated that dieticians did not receive education on eating disorders; instead, they had to seek out information on the topic on their own.  Beasley’s concerns stemmed from personal experience, as she struggled with an eating disorder during her freshman year of college. The disorder resurfaced three years later, sending Beasley to therapy to fully recover. “It showed me that nutrition really affected everything,” she said. “It affected my grades, faith, family and relationships, and my body.”

Coming to grips with her eating disorder “was a very profound, life-changing moment because I had only ever been able to give compassion to other people, not myself,” Beasley added. Determined to apply both her brain and her heart to accomplish good things in her work, Beasley entered a career that combined her two interests—science and people.

Beasley and her Alsana team trademarked a new treatment model, which emerged from other best practices, that emphasizes the healing of the whole person (the word “alsana,” in fact, means “whole person” or “all health.”) While eating disorders are traditionally treated through medical, nutritional and therapeutic approaches, Alsana added movement and relational treatment methods. “Helping people struggling with eating disorders is more than just counseling or putting them on a meal plan,” Beasley said. “There are so many other avenues to consider, and we really strive to help the person heal in all areas of life.”

In November 2020, Beasley co-authored new standards of practice for dieticians that were published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She is also the author of “Rev It Up! The Lifestyle Diet That Puts You in the Driver’s Seat.”

As an Auburn student, she was involved with the Student Government Association, the Student Dietetic Association and other organizations as well as various service and mentorship opportunities at her church. She also took notes for and tutored a classmate who became seriously ill and was no longer able to attend lectures in-person. Beasley’s professor, Dr. Sarah Strawn, commended her ability to show grace and compassion and her willingness to help that student, who ended up getting better grades than even Beasley herself.

It was Strawn who nominated Beasley for the Sullivan Award, which Beasley knew nothing about at the time. “It was really one of the biggest surprises and most life-changing moments,” Beasley said. “It was very humbling.”

“It was something that honored my character instead of my brain,” she said. “It was more than what my resume said. I will never forget it. At the time, you don’t even realize that the things you did had an impact on other people. It taught me that you don’t know when you’re blessing someone else.”

Beasley said she thinks about the Sullivan Award often. It set her on a trajectory of always making sure to honor others at Alsana. “The greatest joy I get is being able to recognize what someone on the team or our dieticians have done,” Beasley said. “I love opportunities to celebrate another person’s character, blessing people and showing how they shined.”

Beasley continues to live out the Sullivan Foundation’s ideals of service. She returns to her alma mater twice a year and visits other high schools, colleges and sports teams to teach students about eating disorders. Her presentations include conversations on diet culture, the stigma surrounding eating disorders, signs and symptoms of disorders, body image, genetics, the role of temperaments and environments, and discrimination in body size.

“There is a growing grassroots effort in realizing that the pressures of our culture to look a certain way causes harm,” Beasley said. “We need to think about our bodies in a way that celebrates their diversity.”

Dr. Sean Akers

A Part of Something Greater
Dr. Sean Akers, another Auburn alumnus and a 1987 Sullivan Award recipient, works as a pediatric psychologist for the Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha, Neb. “Kids can be so honest, compassionate and caring,” he said. “They want to do the best they can do. Working with kids every day is a blessing.”

As a psychologist, Akers offers his services to children undergoing medical treatment for cancer, diabetes and suicide attempts. He is passionate about suicide prevention, a problem that has been getting worse for the past 20 years. He remembers seeing about 20 failed suicide attempts per year in 2001; by 2009, he was treating 150 children who were injured in failed attempts every year. He has evaluated and worked with more than 1,000 kids who have attempted suicide over the last 10 years.

The job is stressful and hard, but Akers ranks it of utmost importance. He now gives presentations to his local community about suicide prevention. “It’s something that’s hard to talk about, and people often shy away from it,” he admitted. He said it’s more important than ever for resources to be made available and for meaningful conversations to occur before young people begin to seriously contemplate suicide as an option.

Akers actually started mentoring college students as a Project Uplift volunteer while still attending Auburn. The program partnered underprivileged kids, often without role models, with college students for mentoring and friendships. As a “big brother” in Project Uplift, Akers felt his time was being used in a meaningful way. “Being a big brother to kids in need solidified my desire to work with children,” he said.

Akers quickly hit it off with Tom Westmoreland, the director of Project Uplift. “Tom was, and remains, one of the most sweet, gentle, caring men I’ve ever met,” Akers said. “He has always been a beacon of warmth and compassion for me.” Westmoreland offered Akers a job with Project Uplift, acting as a temporary big brother to children who were waiting for a permanent one.

It was Westmoreland who nominated Akers for the Sullivan Award. “It was a total shock,” Akers said. “I was focused on graduating, the future and working for Project Uplift, so I never even thought about an award.”

Now that he’s more familiar with the Sullivan Foundation and the virtues it represents, the award truly resonates with Akers. “The notion of being compassionate and volunteering ourselves to a greater part of the world is huge,” Akers said. “Oftentimes … we’re focused on our own needs, desires and goals. This [award] really encourages us to be part of something greater.”

Lit Up and On Fire: Wofford College and Sullivan Foundation Create “Transformative” Experiences

By Meagan Harkins

Born in rural Spartanburg, S.C. in 1780, Methodist minister Rev. Benjamin Wofford sought to widen his little town’s horizons, focusing on investments in finance and manufacturing.  But Wofford knew that true success for his community hinged on higher education. So, when he died in 1850, he bequeathed $100,000—a considerable fortune in that era—to “establish a college of literacy, classical and scientific education” in his hometown.

It was one of the most significant financial contributions to U.S. higher education prior to the Civil War. And for 62 years, the Sullivan Foundation has collaborated with Wofford College to carry out the reverend’s vision of a stellar educational institution that strengthens the entire region.

“Sullivan and Wofford overlap in so many ways,” said Tyler Senecal, director of Wofford’s Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “They put people first when they’re solving problems. A lot of the ideologies overlap around community development and the importance of being good stewards to people and the planet.”

The Epitome of Integrity and Service
Wofford College is one of a handful of American colleges to operate continuously through and beyond the Civil War. Committed to fulfilling Rev. Wofford’s dream, the citizens of Spartanburg saluted his generosity on July 4, 1851, as 4,000 gathered on the ridge overlooking the local courthouse. The future Methodist Bishop William Wightman, a distinguished professor and journalist and chair of the college’s board of trustees, gave the keynote address while local masons laid the first cornerstone for the campus.

In his address, Wightman said the college would not pattern itself after the South’s then-elitist public universities or the narrowly sectarian colleges sponsored by other Christian denominations. Rather, he noted, “It is impossible to conceive of greater benefits—to the individual or to society—than those embraced in the gift of a liberal education, combining moral principle … with the enlightened and cultivated understanding which is the product of thorough scholarship.”

That momentous occasion was followed by the construction of the president’s home, four faculty homes and the Main Building, now praised for its Tuscan Villa architecture. The campus opened in 1854, serving just three faculty members and seven students. Wofford College now has 67 majors, minors and programs, including numerous graduate and professional tracks through the health and legal professions.

Wofford began bestowing the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award to male students and community leaders in 1959, with William R. Bradford III and John R. Curry as the first recipients. The college honored Vera D. Parsons with the inaugural Mary Mildred Sullivan Award in 1976.

In 1996, Wofford President Joab Lesene Jr. approached the Sullivan Foundation with a request for a grant for scholarships to be given to students with a demonstrated financial need. These scholarships have increased the ability of out-of-state students, not typically eligible for state aid, to attend Wofford, enhancing the school’s mission to grow diversity in the geographic makeup of its student body.

“[Our] association with Sullivan is sort of the epitome of integrity and service to humanity and all that’s good and right in the world,” said Jessalyn Story, director of Wofford’s Center for Community-Based Learning.

Jessalyn Story

Lit Up and On Fire
Beyond awards and scholarships, the Sullivan Foundation has partnered with Wofford College to promote social entrepreneurship and innovation in the Spartanburg and campus communities.

Story has traveled with Wofford students to the Sullivan Foundation’s twice-yearly Ignite Retreats in North Carolina and said she finds the events to be transformative. “The students not only learn to be successful social entrepreneurs, but also about their processes and the ways they think about things,” she said.

One Ignite Retreat featured Jane Leu, a social entrepreneur and founder/CEO of Upwardly Global, which supports immigrants and refugees who want to contribute vital skills to the U.S. workforce. At the event, Leu discussed mapping systems and removing barriers in the workplace. “That has stayed with me ever since,” Story said.

Senecal and Story encourage Wofford students to attend the Ignite Retreats to supplement their academic learning and said they often come back eager to pursue their own social impact businesses. But Story said she learned just as much as the students at her first retreat. “Honestly, I think it was [even] more impactful for me, but they were lit up and on fire for it, too,” Story added.

Converse College, another Sullivan Foundation partner school in Spartanburg, sends students to Sullivan events alongside Wofford’s students. Story witnessed her students developing partnerships with their peers from Converse, working together to serve the same community. “It was like a proud-mom moment for me because the students stood up, went over and introduced themselves,” she recalled.

Spud Marshall kicks off an Ignite Retreat for aspiring changemakers from Wofford College and other colleges and universities around the American South.

Returning from the Ignite Retreat trip, Wofford and Converse attendees organized a symposium for their fellow students and community partners. Molly Barker, founder of Girls on the Run, a social venture in Charlotte, N.C., joined the symposium to help the participants map out and solve local issues.

Story said she’s grateful that the Sullivan Foundation upholds the principles her scholars aspire to live by. The foundation’s programming, she said, helps students become the people they want to be and gives “added support and recognition in that striving.”

Senecal emphasized that college faculty derive similar benefits from the foundation. He was a Sullivan Faculty Fellow for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship from 2018 to 2020. During this time, he developed a course that took 19 students to Tanzania to learn from social innovators and entrepreneurs working to provide aid to that country and surrounding areas in sub-Saharan Africa. “It was impactful and transformational,” Senecal said.

“The fellowship allowed me the opportunity to get feedback from faculty and staff at all of the partner institutions, which was a phenomenal asset and resource to be able to partake in,” Senecal added. “They shared knowledge from years and years of experience, people who are really experts and leaders in social entrepreneurship and innovation.”

Tyler Senecal

Training Innovative Leaders
In keeping with the Sullivan Foundation’s own mission, Wofford’s Center for Community-Based Learning (CCBL) equips students to build mutually beneficial partnerships with local and regional communities, often addressing social or environment-related dilemmas. The center “enriches scholarship, learning and teaching,” Story said.

Wofford also hosts iCAN, a program partnering local high school students with Wofford students. The high schoolers will be first-generation college students and receive mentoring, advice and encouragement from the older students.

Additionally, Wofford houses the Bonner Scholars Program, a CCBL-led initiative for students who want to make an impact beyond the classroom. Wofford also offers collaborative student-faculty projects during the summers, while faculty make sure to embed community engagement in their courses.

Meanwhile, the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (OEI) offers an avenue for students who want to do meaningful work through business ownership. “We believe entrepreneurship is the way to solve the toughest challenges … we’re dealing with,” Senecal said. “It is sustainably improving the world through innovative ventures.”

In this 2017 photo, Wofford College students work on their Entrepreneurial Thinking Certificate at The Space at the Mungo Center.

Senecal leads students in their quest to understand complex problems, develop a bias towards action, and learn perseverance and adaptability. “Equipping our students with the abilities to be innovative leaders is how we can make the most profound impact,” he said.

The OEI offers co-curricular programming built upon the belief that students learn by creating and launching ventures on their own. From watching these young changemakers in action, Senecal has learned that “anyone can make an impact.”

One endeavor launched through the office is Swell Vision, a sustainable sunglass and apparel company founded by Wofford alumnus Mitchell Saum. Another is SEED., an impact business cofounded by Wofford student Mackenzie Syiem, who attended the Sullivan Foundation’s Fall 2019 Social Entrepreneurship Field Trip to Raleigh, N.C. SEED. sells handcrafted products to stimulate local economies and support social causes. Another Wofford student is developing an app that will help farmers’ markets encourage spending in local economies.

“We are preparing superior students for meaningful lives as citizens, leaders and scholars,” Story said. “I think that aligns very tightly with Sullivan. We’re both trying to prepare people for lives of meaning and service.”

Jordan Reeves Discusses Empathy, LGBTQ+ Storytelling in March 18 Ignite Masterclass

The Sullivan Foundation’s final Ignite Masterclass of the Spring 2021 season wraps up on March 18 with featured guest Jordan Reeves, founder of VideoOut and VideoOut Entertainment.

The virtual masterclass, titled “Building Bridges of Empathy Through Storytelling and Listening,” will be held in two sessions at 11 a.m. and 1:25 p.m. (ET) on Thursday, March 18. Click here to register for the first session and click here to sign up for the second session.

Learn more about the Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Masterclasses here.

Ignite Masterclasses are free and open to all college students, both in and beyond the Sullivan Foundation network of partner schools, and to the general public.

Jordan Reeves, founder of VideoOut and VideoOut Entertainment

VideoOut is a nonprofit organization committed to sharing LGBTQ+ stories in the largest city of each state and at least 100 small towns and rural communities around the U.S. by 2025.

VideoOut works with local community partners to share the stories of LGBTQ+ individuals, cataloguing their personal narratives and encouraging empathy and unity. Its three major initiatives—the BIPOC Story Initiative, Queers Without Borders and Thrive—focus on communities that have been historically silenced, erased and oppressed.

VideoOut Entertainment (VOE) is a hub for LGBTQ+ entertainment, producing television shows, films and documentaries that center LGBQT+ folks at the intersections of identity. Every VOE project is made with a team comprised of at least 51 percent LGBTQ+ individuals, people of color, nonbinary people and/or women.

Through VideoOut, Reeves has recorded more than 400 LGBTQ+ stories around the country. His nonprofit partners with hyper-local organizations to wield stories as empathetic tools for change through community programs, and those stories are then turned into traditional TV and film pitches.

He will also share the lessons he has learned and discuss ways to scale movements that drive tangible change.

Video: Why You Should Get Involved With the Sullivan Foundation

“Something I care deeply about is human dignity,” says Anna Scott Cross, a past recipient of the Sullivan Scholarship at Sullivan Foundation partner school Campbell University. “That’s actually the reason I decided to study public health. When you value people for who they are and not what they have or what their status is, it’s transformative.”

In this new video produced by Open Eye Creative for the Sullivan Foundation, Scott and several past Sullivan Award recipients and Ignite Retreat attendees talk about how the foundation has affected their lives.

Watch the video below and learn how you can create positive change and impact your community by becoming a service leader and getting involved in the Sullivan Foundation to help build a better world.