Elon Buddies Program Receives Governor’s Award for Volunteer Service

The Elon Buddies program, a partnership between Elon University and Alamance Community College (ACC), recently received the Governor’s Medallion Award for Volunteer Service.

Elon Buddies gives undergraduate students the opportunity to pair with special-needs students enrolled in ACC’s Career College program twice a month. Career College is a two-year integrative certificate program for adults with intellectual or developmental and physical disabilities. It provides a foundation for transitioning into a career. Along with on-hands practicum experience, the students learn to develop their math, reading and computer skills.

About 50 Elon and ACC students participate in Elon Buddies, which will celebrate its eighth year this fall.

Read the full version of this article on the Elon University website.


Davidson College Alumnus Runs Nonprofit Tech Helping Families Apply for SNAP Benefits

By Danielle Strickland

Genevieve Nielsen graduated from Sullivan Foundation partner school Davidson College just five years ago and already has made a difference in the lives of more than 425,000 families—and counting.

Nielsen co-founded mRelief, a non-profit tech company that helps families find out if they qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps. Families can answer 10 quick questions online instead of spending hours on the phone or in a waiting room.

“Our goal was to put something into the world that would be useful, and that turned out to be a tech nonprofit,” said Nielsen. “We want to make it so anybody can access a social safety net, and that’s where we’re headed.”

To date, mRelief has unlocked more than $91 million in SNAP benefits. There are currently nine million people in the United States who are eligible for but not receiving the benefit, simply because they don’t know they can.

“About three million of the nine million live in California, so we’ve been doing a lot of work out there,” explained Nielsen. “We focus on where we can make the most impact and where there are the most people to serve.”


mRelief began while Nielsen attended a coding bootcamp the summer after graduating from Davidson, and she was inspired by a presentation about the inefficiencies related to social services in Chicago. Chicago is also Nielsen’s home, where she and her family moved after leaving New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. She learned that, every year, 10,000 people apply for assistance in paying their rent but only 400-600 qualify, resulting in a huge waste of time for applicants and staff.

Nielsen’s work focuses on SNAP benefits, but she sees real potential for expanding to other programs.

“We had some luck,” Nielsen said. “By the end of that first summer, the city wanted case workers to use our program. That gave us the wind at our backs to keep going.”

It costs approximately $13 to enroll a family and, on average, the family receives $1,000 in benefits within the first six months.

Creating something new has always been of interest to Nielsen, but it was at Davidson where she learned about her strengths and the areas where she needed more work.

“There is only so much you can learn by reading or getting advice; there’s nothing like trying something and feeling it for yourself,” she said. “During college, a friend and I tried to make a website that would benefit student organizations on campus. The main problem was that neither of us knew how to code. That really set me on the path I’m on now. Even though our project didn’t work out, there’s a lot to be said for giving it a shot, especially in college when you have the security to do it.”

Nielsen’s involvement with the Chidsey Leadership Program, as well as relationships with a few key professors, helped give her the confidence that she could learn new things and take on new challenges.

“I was always introverted, so I never saw myself as a leader,” she said. “The Chidsey program helped me see that anybody can be a leader. It’s not just one type of personality. It’s really about mobilizing people to effect positive change – and any personality can do that.”

This article was edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Davidson College website.

Student Developing Sensors for Spider Robots at Randolph-Macon College

A student at Sullivan Foundation partner school Randolph-Macon College is helping robots develop “spidey sense”—well, sort of.

Max Spivey, a computer science and cybersecurity major, is conducting robotics research at R-MC’s Schapiro Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program, working under the guidance of computer science professor John McManus.

Spivey’s research involves developing different gaits (the way/order the legs move) and postures (looking scared, looking aggressive) for six-legged robotic spiders. In a lab in the Copley Science Center, Spivey is developing a set of sensors that allow the spiders to perceive the environment and a set of stimulus-response behaviors for the spiders to respond to what they sense.

“In other words, I am making three large, six-legged robots that will respond to the world like real spiders do,” Spivey says. “For example, I want to program the robots to communicate about what obstacles to avoid—say, an object that is one meter away. I’m also working toward programming the spiders to react with specific behavior (such as twitching) in order to appear aggressive if they perceive a threat. If aggressive, the robots may walk faster and/or puff up to look bigger.”

Part of Max Spivey’s research involves programming robots to communicate with each other about which obstacles to avoid in their environment.

Sensors, Coding, Behavior 
The spiders are made of acrylic plastic, with micro-controller boards for the “brain,” servos (an automatic device that uses error-sensing negative feedback to correct the performance of a mechanism), and ultrasonic sensors to detect movement. Each spider, connected to a central server called a blackboard, will relay information to the blackboard, determine what to do with it, and allow the other robots to pull the information if needed. This information will most likely be about the surrounding environment and what behaviors (aggression, passivity, curiosity) the spiders will display as they respond to their environment.

Each day, Spivey adds sensors to the robots, alters code, or creates new code for the robots to use. His research goals change day by day and follow a longer-range plan that he developed for his project. He works towards those goals in the morning, and he tests the hardware and software in the afternoon and evening.

Great Ideas + Alumni Connections 
The idea behind Spivey’s research came about when McManus met with Scot Tanner, founder and producer of Stormcatcher Films in Petersburg, Virginia. Tanner was interested in finding students with robotics experience to design and program a robot spider that can move and interact with its surroundings.

“One of the big benefits of working at R-MC is that we have highly engaged alumni and staff who help faculty make connections to support our current students,” says McManus, who later met with R-MC alum Pat Filoteo, architect & principal project manager for Microsoft, Inc. – Windows Azure. “Pat and I talked about opportunities for him to engage with our students, and he generously offered to fund Max’s SURF project.”  Thanks to Filoteo, Spivey is known as the 2019 Filoteo Fellow.

Spivey’s spider robots are being programmed to learn certain behaviors, including aggression, passivity and curiosity.

“The equipment we are using in Max’s research—including the three robot spiders, sensors, and specialized batteries, isn’t something we can cover,” says McManus. “Thanks to Pat, we were able to purchase the items Max needed to get his research underway. Alumni-student connections are part of what makes R-MC unique.”

This article was adapted from the original story appearing on the Randolph-Macon College website.


It’s Official: Coker College Changes Its Name to Coker University

It’s official: Sullivan Foundation partner school Coker College began operating as Coker University on July 1, reflecting the institution’s recent growth and increased diversity of degree offerings.

Coker currently has five online master’s degree programs and grants bachelor’s degrees in over 40 subject areas, including four undergraduate degrees that can be earned entirely online. As Coker University, the value of a Coker degree is more clearly indicated to both international and domestic audiences, and the breadth of opportunities available to Coker students is now implied in the institutional name, the university stated.

“In my 10 years as president of Coker, I’ve seen this institution respond with passion and purpose to the changing needs of our students and higher education in general,” says Dr. Robert Wyatt, president of Coker University. “Transitioning to Coker University is a natural next step as we continue to implement innovative ways of helping our students achieve their personal best.”

Coker University’s newly shifted academic structure includes Coker College of Humanities and Sciences with Dr. Andrea Coldwell as dean; the School of Business with Dr. Andrew Burkemper as dean; the School of Visual and Performing Arts with Professor Angela Gallo as dean; and the Wiggins School of Education, which was founded in 2012, with Dr. Karen Carpenter continuing as dean.

The school also announced that graduates can get their diplomas reprinted with the name “Coker University” instead of “Coker College.”

In 1894, Major James Lide Coker and the Welsh Neck Baptist Association opened Welsh Neck High School, a coeducational boarding school, on what would become Coker’s campus. The grounds transitioned in 1908 to become Coker College for Women. It officially became a coeducational institution in 1969 and dropped “for Women” from its title.

In the fall of 2018, the Coker College Board of Trustees voted unanimously to change the institution’s name to Coker University, effective July 1, 2019. Following that decision, the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education reclassified Coker from its “Baccalaureate Colleges, Diverse Fields” category to the category of “Masters Universities, Smaller Programs.”

The crux of a Coker education still centers around personalized, discussion-based learning and the values of the university’s student covenant: integrity, respect, scholarship, sustainability, service, and contribution.

Coker’s May 2019 commencement ceremony was the last for Coker College. December 2019 graduates will be the first to receive degrees from Coker University.

This article was adapted slightly from the original story on the Coker College website.


Campbell University Divinity School Introduces New Degree Program

Campbell University’s Divinity School will introduce a new degree program for those who are looking to integrate their faith into secular careers. The program will equip students to think deeply, live faithfully and lead with purpose.

The Master of Arts in Faith and Leadership Formation is designed to help recent college graduates entering the workforce and those with established careers discover a meaningful mission in their work. Graduates of the program will leave with practical knowledge of what a life of deep faith and service-oriented leadership looks like in their fields.

The first cohort of the MA in Faith and Leadership Formation will begin in January 2020. Cameron H. J. Jorgenson, associate professor of Christian Theology & Ethics, will serve as the program’s director.

“Leadership is not just about doing. It is about becoming a person worthy of following,” Jorgenson said. “Our work is to support students in this transformation, helping them to gain the skills, knowledge and character required to love God and neighbor through their work in the world.”

The 18-month degree program is taught with both online and face-to-face instruction and designed to be accessible to students with careers or other commitments without sacrificing the valuable community that comes from learning together in a classroom.

“The Master of Arts in Faith and Leadership Formation is a dream that’s been in the making for several years,” Jorgenson explained. “But we couldn’t just repackage one of our clergy-oriented degrees and give it to folks and hope that it equips them for a life of service out in the world. We needed to build a new program from the ground up to meet the specific needs of those serving in non-ministerial careers.”

Requirements for the MA in Faith and Leadership Formation include a four-year bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution, a minimum GPA of 2.5 on a 4.0 scale and an interview with the Divinity School. The application is now available, and the deadline to apply is Nov. 15, 2019. A new cohort will be selected each January to take on the challenge of earning a meaningful master’s degree, clarifying their future and focusing their lives and careers around their faith.

“We find ourselves in a time of rapid change, both for society and the church,” said Andy Wakefield, dean of Campbell Divinity School. “In response, we’ve seen Christians who are called and gifted by God to be lawyers, teachers, doctors, business leaders, engineers and more, eager to dig more deeply into the Bible, to pursue depth in their character and to practice their faith with substance. This new degree will equip them to do just that — to live purposeful and intentional lives of faith and Christian service in the context of any and every vocation to which God has called them.”

This article is adapted slightly from the original version on the Campbell University website.

Mercer University Team Creates 3D Yearbooks for Visually Impaired High Schoolers

By Andrea Honaker

Having a high school yearbook is something that most of us probably don’t think twice about. We flip through the pages whenever we want to see our former classmates and reminisce about our graduation year.

A team at Sullivan Foundation partner school Mercer University has created a keepsake product to help visually impaired students remember this life milestone. On May 1, Dr. Sinjae Hyun and Dr. Scott Schultz with Mercer’s School of Engineering and several of their students presented “Touch3D Yearbooks” to graduating seniors at Georgia Academy for the Blind (GAB).

“It’s something that the visually able take for granted, being able to see family members, friends. I wanted to be a part of something that gives that to visually impaired students as well,” said Jordan Brewton, a sophomore biomedical engineering major who helped manage the project.

This is the second year Mercer has made these custom yearbooks, which feature 3D-printed face models of the graduates, for the Macon school. The project is supported by funding from Mercer’s Research That Reaches Out initiative.

Dr. Hyun, professor of biomedical engineering, said he found inspiration for the project during a workshop in South Korea in December 2016. A presenter talked about a bust model that was built for a blind high school graduate, which led Dr. Hyun to begin brainstorming how something similar could be done using technology at Mercer.

Mercer student Michelle Jung (left) gives GAB student Judy Charles a 3D yearbook. (Photo by Chris Smith)

He connected with GAB Superintendent Dr. Cindy Gibson and pitched the idea of the 3D yearbook. The Mercer team used a 3D scanner to scan the faces of seven Class of 2018 graduates, printed head models using a 3D printer, made boards to display the models on, and gave a yearbook board to each of the students.

“The idea was perfect,” Dr. Gibson said. “This is their project, and they do this for us. We get the benefit. I think it’s very exciting, and I think it will be a major keepsake (for our graduates) for the rest of their lives, just like we save our yearbooks.”

The Mercer team had to rethink its strategy for this year’s 3Dyearbook, since GAB had 11 students graduating. It would take too long to produce all the head models using last year’s method, and this year’s yearbook would need two boards to represent all the students, Dr. Hyun said.

Dr. Schultz, associate dean of engineering and industrial engineering professor, helped Dr. Hyun come up with a solution. They 3D-printed the 11 heads, created silicone molds of them and then cast them.

They were able to make all of the heads in about eight hours, compared to the minimum three months that would have been required using last year’s method, Dr. Schultz said. They created hinged wooden cases that open to display five students and the GAB logo on the left side and the other six students on the right side. The students’ names are included in braille and regular type.

The 3D yearbook features face models of 11 Georgia Academy for the Blind Class of 2019 graduates inside a wooden case. (Photo by Chris Smith)

Thirteen Mercer students were involved in the project during the fall 2018 semester, when they designed a production manual for the yearbook. For the spring semester, 17 students used the manual to create the product, Dr. Hyun said. Sarah Spalding, a freshman biomedical engineering major, said she enjoyed being a part of the process from start to finish, from the scanning of the faces to the building of the cases.

“It was definitely a valuable experience,” said Michelle Jung, a freshman industrial engineering major. “All the cases were constructed by us, hands-on, and each of them are unique in their own way.”

The plan is to share the manual with schools and centers for the visually impaired across the United States so they can create yearbooks for their graduating seniors, Dr. Hyun said.

“In the beginning, I just tried to apply this 3D technology to the blind community. Then I saw those responses, how they accept this as a good approach. It felt really great,” he said. “I’m a really lucky guy with these dedicated students. Mercer has a great student community.”

On May 1, the graduating seniors at GAB felt the molds inside their new “Touch3D Yearbooks.” They were all smiles as they found their own faces and identified their classmates. GAB student Austin Rogers said he loved his yearbook and planned to display it on a shelf in his bedroom.

“I think it’s great because we could feel people’s faces versus actually seeing them,” said GAB student Judy Charles.

The project has become a part of the Mercer On Mission (MOM) South Korea experience. In addition to teaching English and robotics to children at the Drim School, the MOM team members created 3D face models of two staff members at a nearby center for the blind during the 2018 trip.

For this summer’s MOM trip from May 16-June 15, they will create 3D family photos for blind residents at the center and also make 3D yearbooks for graduating seniors at a local school for the blind. The Mercer team will teach the Drim School students about the scanning, modeling and printing process so they can continue the project after they leave the country.

Mary Baldwin University Names First Social Entrepreneur in Residence

Sullivan Foundation partner school Mary Baldwin University recently named Michael Pirron, founder and CEO emeritus of Impact Makers in Richmond, Va., as its first-ever Social Entrepreneur in Residence.

Impact Makers is a for-profit consulting firm owned by two public charities. The social enterprise donates all of its profits to charitable partners in the community.

In this new position, Pirron will mentor undergraduate and graduate students as they work to establish business as a force for environmental and social good.

“The most inspiring thing about working with Michael has been his incredible ingenuity in forming Impact Makers,” said MBA student Kari Watson, who is working with Pirron on a series of interviews with B Corporation leaders. “It truly is a one-of-a-kind business model that has set the pace for B Corporations and philanthropy as a whole.”

Certified B Corporations, or B Corps, are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.

Pirron’s mindset and the social-benefit focus of MBU’s master of business administration (MBA) program are a perfect match, according to the university. The 100% online MBA is designed to help leaders run businesses that make a profit while also having a positive impact on the world.

“I believe the B Corporation business model will make a huge impact in the business world in the near future, holding corporations to higher standards,” said Watson, who will finish her MBA in fall 2019.

Pirron will also guest lecture, meet one-on-one with students, and participate in MBA activities. His residency will run through December 2019.

“Over the course of my early years in consulting … I dreamed about building a different company, a company that would fulfill me professionally and personally – a company that would span beyond just making money,” said Pirron in an interview with Watson (read the full interview here).

“So with $50, a laptop, and one client contract, I started a company I didn’t own, gave the company away to the community from the beginning, and started reporting to a volunteer board of directors that could fire me as CEO if I wasn’t maximizing profits for the community,” he continued. “If the corporation sold, the community would have rights to the sales proceeds. And we grew it over 10 years to $23 million in revenue and 14-plus employees.”

Pirron is now on the leadership team as vice president, client solutions at Networking Technologies and Support, headquartered in Midlothian, and he also serves on MBU’s Advisory Board of Visitors. He spent the early years of his career as a senior consultant with Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) based in Sophia Antipolis, France, consulting throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and India. As a result, Pirron has spent significant time in more than 25 countries. He holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

MBU has also benefited from longstanding relationships with two artists in residence, painter and activist Claudia Bernardi and master percussionist Srinivas Krishnan, who return to campus for classes, lectures, and performances.

This story is edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Mary Baldwin University website.

Campbellsville University Honors Jessica Johnson with Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award

By Ian McAninch

Jessica Johnson of Clarkson, Ky. was the student recipient of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at Campbellsville University’s commencement ceremony.

CU president Dr. Michael V. Carter, Board of Trustees Chairman Henry Lee and Dr. Donna Hedgepath, provost and vice president for academic affairs, presented the award to Johnson.

Carter highlighted Johnson’s time at Campbellsville University before presenting the award.  “While at CU, Jessica has been involved in many activities,” Carter said. “She has been a member of the dean’s list and has worked as an intern in the Office of Enrollment since the spring of 2016 and served as a Presidential Ambassador since the fall of 2015.

“Jessica is a member of Omicron Delta Kappa and Alpha Lambda Delta. She has served as a natural science tutor and has been involved in numerous other activities. Just two weeks ago, Jessica was honored with numerous academic awards and was named Miss Campbellsville for 2018-2019.”

“Through her work in the Office of Enrollment the past three years, she has exemplified and surpassed the expectation of a Campbellsville graduate. She has been a very active member of the Student Government Association (SGA) for the last three years by serving as SGA secretary.

“She has served as secretary of the Pre-professional Health Society and is a founding member, where she has played a vital part to help students in the pre-professional program come together in their search for graduate and professional schools.”

“During her spare time, she has served as a seasonal optometric technician where she has gained valuable experience that she can take with her to graduate school. Jessica has been accepted to the Kentucky College of Optometry at the University of Pikeville and will begin there later this summer.”

Carter said, “It has been quoted that, ‘Jess has been an integral part of the dual credit team and a joy to work alongside. Her maturity and work ethic showed daily but what I love most about her is how she displays Christian servant leadership not only with her colleagues in the Office of Enrollment but also throughout the many activities she is involved in. I look forward to see what the future holds for her and those lives she will change along the way.  She is a great friend!’”

Johnson is the daughter of Patricia Johnson of Clarkson, Ky., and David Johnson of Leitchfield, Ky.

“We are very honored this morning to present the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards for the 11th consecutive year,” Carter noted. “Campbellsville University was selected in 2002 to participate in this very prestigious awards program that honors the memory and legacy of the late Algernon Sydney Sullivan.”

“Mr. Sullivan was a lawyer, devout Christian, mediator, a powerful and appealing orator, a courageous citizen during perilous times, a noted philanthropist, and a devoted family man.  In the words of a friend, Sullivan ‘reached out both hands in constant helpfulness to others.’”

This story was edited slightly from the original version on the Campbellsville University website.

This Florida Nonprofit Serves Pet Owners Who Can’t Afford Veterinary Care

For many Americans living below the poverty line, pets often provide the comfort and companionship that makes life worth living. But keeping their pets healthy is a luxury some can’t afford. This “Heartland Stories” video, created by the Sullivan Foundation’s new corporate partner, Renasant Bank, tells the heartwarming story of one nonprofit that’s offering affordable veterinary care in Alachua County, Florida. Among its many services, St. Francis Pet Care offers free veterinary care, medicines and pet food to companion animals of homeless and very low-income individuals. Many thanks to Renasant Bank for supporting the Sullivan Foundation and other great causes like St. Francis!

Guilford College Ranks in Top 10 in RecycleMania Tournament

In a remarkable display of its commitment to recycling and reducing food waste, Sullivan Foundation partner school Guilford College ranked sixth in the Per Capita Classic, seventh in Food Organics, and 39th in Food Diversion in RecycleMania’s recent eight-week tournament.

So what is RecycleMania? “RecycleMania is a friendly competition between colleges and universities across the country and Canada that are committed to bringing awareness to recycling and waste on college campuses,” explained psychology major Kathleen Casperson.

Casperson’s work as an apprentice with Guilford’s Office of Sustainability led to her involvement with RecycleMania.

“Hana Malone, the student Coordinator of RecycleMania, and myself measured the waste and recycling dumpsters biweekly,” she said. “We entered this data into a spreadsheet, which calculated the number of pounds we were wasting versus recycling. Throughout the event, Hana and I tabled in Founders Hall to bring awareness to RecycleMania. Daisie Stewart, Sustainability Coordinator for Meriwhether Godsey (the Guilford dining hall), assisted in these tabling events by involving the cafeteria in our efforts toward sustainability.”

“My favorite part was the tabling events in Founders,” Casperson said. “One event we organized was using aluminum cans from the cafeteria and making herb planters out of them. We added compost, and students could choose from six varieties of herbs to plant in their can. While the students were potting their plant, we would talk to them about what can and cannot be recycled according to the North Carolina regulations. It was fun to see how excited the students were about this project, and I felt like it really encouraged an effort to live sustainably.”

Reducing food waste on college campuses is a major goal for Recyclemania.

Reflecting on how Guilford’s participation in Recyclemania aligns with Guilford’s core values, Casperson said, “This event encouraged community on campus because it called for direct action in an effort to reduce our carbon footprint. Recycling and reduction of food waste is imperative for the betterment of our entire community. It also encouraged students to act with integrity and responsibility by implementing sustainable practices.”

“Guilford does well in this competition partly because we make it pretty easy to recycle —with recycle bins next to landfill (bins) in nearly every location on campus, inside and outside,” said Director of Sustainability David Petree. “It doesn’t hurt that we live in an area that offers single-stream recycling. We don’t have to sort paper from plastic from glass and so on. Our numbers are very much helped by the fact that we compost nearly all of our food waste. Food waste is very heavy, and campuses generally create a lot of it. The competition is based on weights.”

David also said that, despite how well Guilford ranked in RecycleMania’s national competition, there’s a lot of work to be done. “It needs to be said that the competition assumes people always place recyclables in the recycling containers and trash in the trash or landfill containers. This is not the case here or most other places. When we do audits of our containers, we find contamination. During our recent student move-out, several recycling containers had to be hauled to the landfill due to the amount of contamination.”

This story is a slightly edited version of the original article on the Guilford College website.