Women’s Organizations Provide Strong Support Network at University of Alabama

Women have been making their mark at Sullivan Foundation partner school University of Alabama (UA) for more than a century, and evidence of their success can be found throughout the university, state, nation and beyond. A big part of their success can be credited to the numerous women-centered student organizations that support women during their college journeys.

There are more than 50 women-centered organizations (including sororities) on the UA campus, covering a wide variety of interests.

“Women-centered groups are important for our campus because they serve individual students and the larger campus community,” said Mollie Tinney, assistant director of organization engagement with UA’s Office of Student Involvement. “These groups provide a network of support for women-identified students based on their shared experiences and interests. They also serve campus through their leadership and innovative initiatives, highlighting the immeasurable contributions of UA women to the Capstone.”

Related: University of Alabama honors two students, one administrator with Sullivan Awards

One such organization is the Society of Women in Economics (SWE), which aims to foster networking between female students majoring or interested in economics and to expose members to potential career opportunities they might not otherwise learn about.

“I started SWE because I wanted to create a space where we could build camaraderie between fellow women in economics,” said Taylor Hobbs, a senior economics major from Venice, Florida, who serves as the president of the organization. “I hope this organization shapes students at UA in such a way that prepares them to be confident professionals after graduation and encourages them to mentor those around them.”

Las Donas members spread awareness at a pre-pandemic event.

Las Doñas, another women-focused organization on campus, began in 2019 after a group of women wanted to unite and open opportunities for the Latinx community at UA.

“Our group creates a safe space where women can prioritize their studies, give back to the community, create networking opportunities, have fun and make long-lasting friendships,” said Grace Savino, a senior criminal justice major and president of the group. The Blandon, Pennsylvania, native said they host fundraisers, community service events, forums, bonding events, study hours and giveaways throughout the semester.

CHAARG, which stands for Changing Health, Attitudes and Actions to Recreate Girls, focuses on health and fitness and aims to ignite a passion for movement in college women, with the tagline, “Liberating Women from the Elliptical Since 2012.”

Related: Alabama, Auburn students join forces to help food-insecure families

“We saw a need for an all-women organization here at UA, other than a sorority, that focused on health,” said Portland, Oregon, native Ali Gormley, a senior majoring in management and entrepreneurship who serves as the group’s ambassador. “We create a community of like-minded women that you can count on. Through this community, you’re able to be yourself and embrace your fitness level and body. With CHAARG supporting you, things become less scary. We break down barriers and help women find their fit and themselves.”

Here’s a list of other organizations available to women this semester:

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

UK Alum Creates Scholarship Foundation for Black Students with GPA of 2.0 or Better

By Akhira Umar, University of Kentucky

As a journalism student at Sullivan Foundation partner school University of Kentucky, Aaron Porter struggled to make ends meet. Now that his career is thriving, he and his cousins have started a scholarship foundation to ease that burden for a new generation of underprivileged Black scholars.

In the first months of 2020, Porter and his cousins, Darrell Williams and Andrew Porter, began researching and planning how to create a scholarship fund. By Dec. 1, they launched the Lawson Porter Scholarship Foundation, named after their grandfather, who instilled generosity within the family.

Related: Elon University social entrepreneurs help Black-owned businesses find new customers

The nationwide scholarship is aimed at helping Black academics like themselves afford higher education, wherever that may be. Unlike many other scholarships that are merit-based and designated for certain majors, this scholarship is open for students of all fields of study with a GPA of at least 2.0.

Porter noted that financial availability is an issue for many Black households, so this scholarship is widening the accessibility of financial aid.

Aaron Porter wants to grow the Lawson Porter Scholarship Foundation to provide a support network for Black students who face the challenges that confronted him in his own college days.

“Being someone who had limited resources, being someone who had to take student loans, being someone who has debt as we speak, we really wanted to focus in on how we can create an avenue for Black students in all aspects of college and learning,” Porter said. “Kind of give them an opportunity to not have to worry about ‘can I pay for this?’ or ‘can I pay for that?’ or ‘can I do this?’ or ‘can I do that?’ They can just go and be students.”

Porter came to campus as a quiet, out-of-state kid who hardly knew anyone and didn’t know what to major in. From semester to semester, he was always left wondering if he’d be able to continue at UK. In fact, without an unexpected grant one year, he was sure he would have to return home to attend community college in Indianapolis.

Despite these obstacles, Porter grew to become a leader on UK’s campus. He became a resident advisor, a singer in the UK Black Voices Gospel Choir and president and vice president of UK’s chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. In 2019, he also won the NAACP UK Chapter Citizen of the Year Award for his work with the Black Student Advisory Council.

Porter is now a public affairs assistant for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service for the state of Mississippi. Despite taking up this new job and its added responsibilities, he knew it was still important to keep giving back.

Related: This Black-owned food delivery company helps make Black-owned restaurants more competitive

“Aaron is one of the best humans I know. His passion for social and racial justice, his love for his community and his unwavering faith are front and center with him always,” said Carol Taylor-Shim, director of UK’s Office of Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice and one of Porter’s mentors at the university. “Aaron always honors and protects the humanity of others; it is the center of who he is. What a gift he gave us by choosing UK, and we are far better for it.”

The Lawson Porter Scholarship Foundation’s Facebook page focuses on important figures from Black history, such as Alexander Twilight, the first African-American to graduate from college.

The dedication Porter has for supporting his fellow Black peers is something he shares and regularly discusses with his cousins. Black awareness and appreciation determined who the recipients of their scholarship would be, along with every other aspect of the foundation. Everything on the foundation’s website, from the logo to the color palate, is “Black-inspired, Black-imagined, Black-created,” Porter said.

The application process also requires applicants to create a submission piece that “captures some form of Afrocentric history” in order to combat the lack of Black history that is taught in education systems.

“What is most impressive about Aaron is that self-recognition was never at the heart of his work. He was always concerned about paths of opportunity he was creating for other students, particularly students of color who are marginalized in predominantly white institutions,” said Mel Coffee, a former School of Journalism and Media faculty member and current director of the Capital News Service Broadcast Bureau at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. “Aaron had a fluid relationship with students and administrators that allowed him to create positive dialogue and change. He’s the student I loved having in class, a colleague I admire in his post-student status, and a man I am proud to also call my friend.”

Although the scholarship foundation is still in its infancy, Porter said they have already received donations from across the nation, including friends, family members and complete strangers. While he’s putting his journalism experience to use as the scholarship foundation’s social media content manager, he looks forward to the day when he’ll be able to disperse scholarship funds as the foundation’s treasurer. He hopes his work will allow him to help others just as his support system had done for him.

“You may never know my name, you may never know who I am, and I’m okay with that,” Porter said. “But if deep down I know that I made an impact on society somewhere, I think that really drives me, and that’s what drives all three of us to do the work that we have committed to doing with the scholarship foundation. I’ll take pleasure in that seven days a week and twice on Sunday.”

For more information about donating to or applying for the Lawson Porter Scholarship Foundation, visit https://thelpsf.org/.

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

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.”

George Mason Graduate Student Advocates for Those With ‘Invisible Disabilities’

By Colleen Kearney Rich

In March 2020, just as the pandemic was beginning, Christine M. Condo, a graduate student at Sullivan Foundation partner school George Mason University, published an essay in the Washington Post that changed her life.

Thousands of people reacted to the piece titled, “‘You don’t look autistic’: The reality of high-functioning autism.” Some of those comments were from people saying, “You just described my life,” which was something Condo had aimed for as an autism advocate. But it still surprised her.

“It was really the first time in my life that the person I am underneath all this was actually seen,” said Condo, who is pursuing a master’s degree in English with a concentration in professional and technical writing. “I still get emotional talking about it because it was so incredible.”

Related: Fast-growing restaurant chain commits to hiring more employees with autism and differing abilities

She said that not only is autism misunderstood, it’s largely underdiagnosed, especially in women, people of color and in other cultures. Many have a stereotypical view of what someone with autism looks like—often a white male. It was partly this stereotype that drove Condo to write the essay.

“I was getting tired of the comments, ‘You don’t look autistic,’ because I felt like it really minimized the experiences that I’ve had my whole life and the amount of work that goes into that disguise and how psychologically painful it can be to have to hide who you really are,” she said. “I decided somebody needs to say something because this is happening everywhere, and people don’t realize it.”

It turns out Condo was that somebody. When she talks about the “disguise,” she is speaking about the challenges of appearing “neurotypical,” which can be physically and emotionally exhausting.

“So many of us are faking it,” she said.

Condo wasn’t diagnosed until 2015. She made it through public school systems and two bachelor’s degrees in writing-related subjects, one at James Madison University and the other at University of Maryland, without anyone realizing that there was something wrong with the way she processed information. She suspected it, though.

“I started becoming aware that my information processing was very, very different from that of my classmates,” she said.

As an undergraduate, Condo, who describes herself as hyperlexic, struggled with trying to prioritize what information was important when studying. So she attempted to master everything. A full course load was a challenge for her.

“It’s been a journey,” she said of finally getting a diagnosis. “And the more I learn [about autism], the more I think about my struggles growing up, when I thought I wasn’t trying hard enough or I wasn’t paying enough attention.”

Condo has made it her mission to change the dialogue about autism. In fact, her research and her thesis are devoted to this topic.

Related: George Mason University senior works with children impacted by cancer

“My focus has been on how language helps create the world we live in,” she said. “People with autism in this country have been defined by stereotypes for the last 30-plus years. If we can change the way people talk about autism, we can change the way people think about autism.”

She also writes and talks about what she calls the “Autism Paradox.”

“We can simply just stop hiding our autism, but then we won’t be employable,” she said. “Or you can do what I do, which is hide your autism. And then people are like, ‘Well, you’re not really autistic. You don’t need any accommodations.’”

Her concerns extend beyond autism to what she calls “invisible disabilities,” which she believes is probably one of the next hurdles for the United States.

“There’s been a lot of progress on getting accommodations for physical disabilities,” she said, “but there’s this huge cohort of people like me with invisible disabilities or whose disabilities aren’t apparent, such as low vision or hard of hearing. There’s no place for us in the disability laws.”

She added, “We still live in a culture where the onus is on the person with the disability to make sure that able people are comfortable around them.”

Still, Condo considers herself lucky. She has a partner and a family who support her and her advocacy work, including her sister, Andrea Kendall, who is a licensed clinical social worker “who gets it” and has become the “go-to therapist for teens and young women with autism.”

Condo and her sister are working on sharing her research at future conferences. That’s one of her goals for the year. Another goal was to publish two more articles, which she did. One of those was published in February in The Washington Post: “I’m autistic. I’m hoping I can wear a mask for the rest of my life.”

Related: George Mason University alumnus recognized as racial justice leader

Mason’s Department of English and Condo’s other professors also appear to get it. Not only have they been able to address Condo’s requests for accommodations, she has worked as a graduate teaching assistant for a multidisciplinary course taught by English professor Heidi Lawrence and as an intern in the department.

“Working with Christine is a delight—she always adds insightful dimensions to class discussion, is an incredibly talented professional writer, and has built a career in professional writing that is inspiring to her classmates,” Lawrence said. “It has been so inspiring to see the advocacy work she has taken on in addition to her always-exemplary class and program work. We are lucky that Christine is in our program!”

This story has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the George Mason University website.

How Duke University Helped 175 Minority- and Women-Owned Businesses Survive the Pandemic

In a partnership between Sullivan Foundation partner school Duke University, Durham County and the city of Durham, N.C., Duke contributed $1 million toward grants that helped 175 small businesses owned by women and minorities recover from financial losses in the pandemic.

Funds issued through the Durham Small Business Recovery Fund helped shore up Durham’s economy during a year in which the city’s small businesses saw 15% declines in revenues. Highlights of the program can be found in this report.

Related: Grace Smith, Christopher Kelsey receive Sullivan Awards from Duke University

The recovery fund was designed to reach small businesses with less than 25 employees, including independently owned operations, sole proprietors and independent contractors.

According to the report, small minority- and women-owned local businesses did not fare well in securing federal funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration through the Payroll Protection Program. The immediate effects of the pandemic were also disproportionately felt by businesses owned by people of color. Black-owned businesses experienced a 41% decrease in activity, and Latino/a/x business owners experienced a 32% decrease, compared to a 17% decrease for white-owned businesses.

Steve Schewel, Durham’s mayor, said the program “has been a critical part of our community’s COVID-19 response.”

According to the report, 85 percent of Durham businesses reported revenue loss in the first month of the pandemic crisis last year. By Fall 2020, total consumer spending had dropped about 15 percent in Durham County, and low-wage employment was down by 20 percent. As of December 2020, total small business revenue had decreased by 37.5 percent compared to January 2020, while the number of small businesses in operation decreased by 30 percent.

The Durham Small Business Recovery Fund began accepting applications on June 18, 2020. Businesses with annual revenue of $500,000 and below were eligible for grants up to $10,000. Businesses with revenue between $500,000 and $5 million received loans in the range of $5,000 to $35,000 at an interest rate of 3 percent, with repayment terms up to 10 years.”

Related: Duke University researcher tracks down cute mouse-like creature in Horn of Africa

“The inclusion of $1 million from Duke University’s Office of Durham and Community Affairs allowed the program to include both short and longer-term financing for businesses in the form of both grants and loans,” the report notes.

Industries that have benefited from the program include Arts, Entertainment and Recreation, Accommodations and Foodservice, Professional Services and Retail Trade. Minority-owned and women-owned firms represented more than half of all approved recipients of the funds.

A total of $672,000 in loans were awarded at an average loan size of $20,743. The average business recipient had been in operation for 12.8 years.

Grant funds ran out in January 2021, but loans are still available. Adjustments will likely be made to expand the eligible pool of applicants and make the program more available and marketable to small business owners in Durham.

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.

Applications Are Being Accepted for Class of 2021 Millennium Fellowship

The United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) and the Millennium Campus Network (MCN) are accepting applications for the 2021 Millennium Fellowship, a semester-long leadership development program for college students on campuses around the globe.

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis (early application is encouraged). Undergraduate students are invited to submit their application by March 31. Final deadline to apply is April 16. Click here to apply now!

Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis, and eligible students will proceed to the second and final round of the application.

The Millennium Fellowship program will take place on selected campuses worldwide from August 2021 to December 2021. The program convenes, challenges and celebrates bold student leadership advancing the Sustainable Development Goals on campus and in communities. As a Millennium Fellow, you will hone skills, take concrete action and earn a certificate of recognition from United Nations Academic Impact and MCN.  There is no cost for selected students.

Related: Rollins College students selected for UN’s prestigious 2019 Millennium Fellowship Program

The Class of 2020 consisted of more than 1,200 Millennium Fellows on 80 campuses in 20 countries. They launched 711 unique projects, put in more than 200,000 hours and made a positive impact on more than 875,000 lives, according to the program’s website.

The United Nations Academic Impact is an initiative that aligns institutions of higher education with the United Nations in supporting and contributing to the realization of UN goals and mandates, including the promotion and protection of human rights, access to education, sustainability and conflict resolution.

The work of these institutions is vital to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, since they serve as incubators of new ideas, inventions and solutions to the many global challenges we face. UNAI provides the integral link to these stakeholders to ensure that the international community harnesses the energy and innovation of young people and the research community in service to humanity.

Millennium Campus Network, (MCN) Inc., is a global student network advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. MCN programs convene, challenge and celebrate student leadership for social impact. MCN has worked directly with over 5,500 young leaders from 300 universities through its programs.

Seventy-five percent of MCN alumni are now in social impact careers, and more than half say that MCN programs definitively prepared them for success.  MCN Advisors include Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Dr. Paul Farmer, and John Legend.

Upcoming Session Offers Tips for Making Online University Events More Engaging

Spud Marshall, director of student engagement for the Sullivan Foundation, will lead an upcoming 30-minute session to help college and university educators make their online events more engaging. The session takes place from 1-2:30 p.m. (ET) on Friday, March 12. Click here to sign up for this free virtual event.

Connection Café is hosted by My Creative Community and Remo. Experience designers from My Creative Community will show you how to leverage facilitation tools to make your virtual programs more engaging, creative and participatory. You will also have a chance to experience the Remo platform in action while networking with peers from higher education institutions around the world.

Unlike a passive webinar, the session will be interactive, offering practical tools that higher education professionals can use on their campuses to enhance their virtual events.

The session will showcase the Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Masterclasses as examples of meaningful and engaging virtual events that get changemakers excited and motivated to create real social impact in their communities, their country and the world.

“We’re hoping to support event organizers at all levels of the university, including student affairs, career services, alumni engagement, new student orientation or academic programs,” Marshall said.