This Furman Student Helps Locals Face the Tax Man

By Tina Underwood

Editor’s note: This story was posted prior to the federal government’s announcement that the 2019 tax filing deadline has been extended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sydney Tanner, a student at Sullivan Foundation partner school Furman University, looks forward to the time of year most people dread—tax season. For the third year in a row, Tanner is volunteering with Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), a free tax service administered by the United Way for individuals and families who make $60,000 or less.

Her participation was required for the first two years as part of intermediate financial accounting and advanced accounting, taught by Sandy Roberson, professor of business and accounting.

Related: Duke University student turns trash into stunning sustainable art

This year, Tanner says she’s doing it because “I enjoy giving back to the community.”

And for some clients, the service represents more than a nice gesture; it’s empowering. Tanner remembers a client who was clearly frustrated in her failed attempt to file her own tax return.

“Understandably, she showed up at the VITA site very annoyed,” Tanner said. “But by the end of the visit, she was smiling and full of energy. We were able to correct the error and let her know what was wrong, giving her the tools to prepare her own return the following year. For me, it was satisfying to see the taxpayer feel empowered to take that on.”

Many other Upstate South Carolina individuals and families have no doubt encountered similar experiences. Since Furman first began supplying VITA volunteers in 2009, 360 students have participated, donating more than 5,200 hours through 2019, Roberson said.

To become certified by the Internal Revenue Service, students must grind out scores of practice returns and complete in-class and supplemental training to pass three exams—standards of conduct, intake/interview and quality review, and the basic (or advanced) preparer exam. While taxpayers benefit from the free service, she says the students may benefit even more.

another photo of Sydney Tanner

Sydney Tanner

“I hope that in addition to the professional and discipline competencies, VITA helps prepare students for public lives as citizens, members of communities and professionals in a diverse, democratic society,” Roberson said. “The program cultivates skills of engaged citizenship and challenges them to think about and articulate their civic role as educated professionals in their community.”

Born to heal: Bradley Firchow earns Sullivan Award at Oglethorpe University

Roberson says the experience is “transformative” for students who have never directly interacted with the public outside of Furman. “I see that in their reflective writings, which can be very moving, when they relate how their view of community or themselves changes as a result of service.”

Tanner, of Wylie, Texas, will intern with Deloitte’s Multistate Tax Services group in Charlotte, North Carolina, following graduation. In the fall, she’ll begin working on her master’s degree in professional accounting at the University of Texas at Austin. But she won’t soon forget her time with VITA.

“My participation with VITA is what really opened my eyes to pursuing the field of taxation as a career path in the first place,” Tanner said.

This article was edited slightly from the original story appearing on the Furman University website.

Wofford College Makes Free Nutrition Education Resources Available Across the State

By Susan Benson, Wofford College

When elementary school students learn to make healthy eating choices at school, they will begin making those choices at home and, perhaps, influence their families to eat healthily as well. That’s the philosophy behind Boss’ Healthy Buddies, a free nutrition education resource for grades K-4 that Dr. David W. Pittman, professor of psychology at Sullivan Foundation partner school Wofford College, and his students are making available to all South Carolina elementary schools.

“The ultimate goal of Boss’ Healthy Buddies is teaching youngsters about nutrition,” said Samantha Baker, a senior accounting major from Beaufort, S.C. “We can educate the children to make healthier choices at school, and we can motivate them to make those healthy decisions at home as well. Boss’ Healthy Buddies brings awareness to families as well.”

Related: Sullivan Foundation offers opportunity to serve those in need in Selma, Alabama

Boss’ Healthy Buddies offers a variety of free materials, encouraging schools to teach students about nutrition and motivate them to develop healthy eating habits. The most popular resource is a nutrition curriculum for each grade. The 15- to 20-minute lessons match a South Carolina education standard so teachers easily can incorporate nutrition information into their weekly lesson plans. The nutrition lessons apply to skills ranging from reading to multiplication.

Baker and Caitlin Shealy, a senior from Columbia, S.C., majoring in psychology with a minor in sociology and anthropology, are the student leaders for Boss’ Healthy Buddies. They are spearheading efforts to put the program into K-4 programs in every elementary school in the state, sending invitation letters to all of the principals – more than 700.

Boss’ Healthy Buddies – named for Wofford’s mascot, Boss – complements Healthy Eating Decisions, a program Pittman developed that allows participating schools to enter the nutritional information for their cafeteria lunches and have a calculator identify the healthiest combination of entrée and two side items each day. “Schools are encouraged to find a means to motivate students to choose the healthiest option, such as ringing a bell for public recognition of their choice or competitions between grades,” he said.

Jesse Boyd Elementary School in Spartanburg District 7 was the first to implement both programs, Healthy Eating Decisions in 2009 and Boss’ Healthy Buddies in 2017. Pine Street Elementary School, also in District 7, and Oakland Elementary School in District 2 have used the Healthy Eating Decisions program since 2011.

Baker and Shealy said they want to continue the efforts to expand the Boss’ Healthy Buddies program throughout South Carolina. Shealy, who has been part of the program for two years, taught a lesson on nutrition to four classes and witnessed the children’s enthusiasm for a healthier lifestyle. She also wants to encourage fellow Wofford students to become involved with Boss’ Healthy Buddies.

Related: Davidson College alumnus runs tech nonprofit helping families apply for SNAP benefits

Pittman has the science to back up the Healthy Eating Decision program’s effectiveness. A study of the program was published in the International Journal of Obesity. It provides evidence that positive reinforcement can increase healthy eating choices during school lunches. Another study published in the Journal of Obesity provides evidence that Boss’ Healthy Buddies is an effective nutrition education resource.

For this study, Pittman and Wofford students looked at three schools that took different approaches with their nutrition education. The first school implemented the Boss’ Healthy Buddies program; the second school lacked any nutrition education program; and the final school paid for a commercially available nutrition education program. Based on pre- and post-tests of nutrition knowledge, the school using the free Boss’ Healthy Buddies resources was comparable to the school that paid for similar resources.

Wofford students involved in the program have honed their leadership skills, Pittman added. They have contacted principals and superintendents, created age-appropriate nutrition curriculums, visited schools implementing the programs and participated in school health fairs. “Much like students who choose to start a business in entrepreneurship, this is an outlet for students who want to promote healthy eating and nutrition awareness,” Pittman said.

This article was edited slightly from the original story appearing on the Wofford College website.


Winthrop University Breaks Record for Freshman Applications

For the second consecutive year, a record number of prospective students have applied for admission to the incoming Winthrop University Class of 2024.

The current recruiting season has seen applications for the fall 2020 freshman class—which numbered 6,125 as of February 5—eclipse the previous mark of 6,101 from fall 2019. The strong application numbers yielded a freshman class that was Winthrop’s largest in four years.

Related: High student voter turnout wins award for Winthrop University

Winthrop University is a partner school of the Sullivan Foundation.

“Our campus community has devoted much time and effort in recent years to strengthening our reputation and increasing the number of students taking advantage of the Winthrop experience, goals laid out in the Winthrop Plan,” said President Dan Mahony. “With our highest rating in 25 years in U.S. News’ America’s Best Colleges and other endorsements for our quality, value and diversity, this record interest at the application phase is evidence that our offerings are resonating with prospective students and families.”

Vice President for Access and Enrollment Management Eduardo Prieto concurred, noting that applications to Winthrop University are up across several South Carolina markets, including some major population centers.

“Our largest increases have been in York County, the greater Columbia metro area and Florence, in addition to extending our reach out to Aiken and Myrtle Beach. We have also remained consistent in Charleston and Greenville/Spartanburg and are up slightly in out-of-state markets like New York and Massachusetts,” said Prieto. “The value of a Winthrop degree and overall experience is very appealing for students and families looking for a combination of best fit and return on investment.”

In addition to the efforts of the campus community, Mahony credited a strong and consistent enrollment marketing plan for the record number of applications.

Related: Winthrop University to collaborate on Miracle Park for people of all abilities

“We have collectively offered unparalleled customer service and a welcoming environment where prospective students are treated like family,” he noted. “The growing interest in Winthrop among prospective freshmen demonstrates that this strong student-centered focus at the university is working.”

During the 2019-20 recruitment season there has been an increase in travel across the state with a strong presence in geographic areas that have historically produced successful Winthrop students. The recruitment team has put additional emphasis on digital communications and the value of the Winthrop experience, which offers national-caliber academics, civic engagement opportunities, high quality undergraduate research experiences, and global connections, all in a beautiful campus setting.

Until this recruitment cycle, Winthrop has traditionally been a rolling admissions cycle institution. However, an early application deadline of Nov. 1 extended offers of acceptance to qualified applicants by Dec. 1. Similarly, all applicants submitting an application prior to Feb. 1 are to receive notifications by Feb. 15. All applications received after Feb. 1 will continue to be received and reviewed until the start of the fall 2020 semester.

This article originally appeared on the Winthrop University website.

Davidson College Recognized for Deep Ties to Community and Commitment to Engagement

The Carnegie Foundation recently recognized Sullivan Foundation partner school Davidson College’s success in reaching off campus and into the community. The century-old foundation, devoted to erasing educational inequities, has awarded Davidson its Community Engagement Classification.

The organization highlighted how the college’s curriculum, community partnerships, and research and service opportunities engage faculty and students in a mutually beneficial relationship with the broader community, while giving students crucial experience and life skills. Students connect what they are doing in the classroom with real world problems, part of Davidson preparing them for lives of leadership and service.

Related: Davidson College alumnus runs nonprofit tech company that helps families apply for SNAP benefits

“Davidson is grateful for the opportunity to work with great community partners who are addressing urgent challenges our society faces,” said Davidson College President Carol Quillen. “Our students, faculty and staff are excited to build on these efforts and to honor this distinguished recognition from the Carnegie Foundation.”

Davidson is one of 119 U.S. colleges and universities to receive the Community Engagement Classification, which indicates institutional commitment to community engagement.

This important classification is awarded following a process of extensive self-study by each institution, which is then assessed by a national review committee led by the Swearer Center for Public Engagement at Brown University, the administrative and research home for the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification.

Davidson College president Carol Quillen joined students, faculty and staff at Lula Bell’s Resource Center for a National Volunteer Week service project. They prepared jars of detergent for local partner agencies.

“Community engagement is deeply ingrained in our culture at Davidson,” said Stacey Riemer, associate dean and director of civic engagement at Davidson. “Many people across campus and in our community contributed to the year-long evaluation that allowed us to reflect upon the ways that our curriculum, programs, practices, and resources support robust community partnerships.”

Related: A Davidson College student combines a passion for language and politics with action on behalf of refugees

Some examples of Davidson College’s reach and commitment include:

  • Each student must take one course that satisfies the Justice, Equality, and Community (JEC) requirement. These courses address the manifestations of justice and equality in various communities, locales, nations or regions.
  • The Center for Civic Engagement and Athletics have partnered on a new “Cats Care” initiative to build upon current engagement efforts and encourage more engagement among athletes.
  • In the 2018-19 academic year, faculty offered 27 community-based learning courses in partnership with community organizations.
  • Eighty Bonner Scholar students contributed a total of 22,400 hours of work with public and nonprofit organizations.

“These institutions are doing exceptional work to forward their public purpose in and through community engagement that enriches teaching and research while also benefiting the broader community,” said Mathew Johnson, executive director of the Swearer Center, which houses the Carnegie classification.

The Carnegie Community Engagement Classification has been the leading framework for institutional assessment and recognition of community engagement in U.S. higher education for the past 14 years.

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

Carson-Newman University Students Win Statewide Award for Voter Registration Campaign

Students at Sullivan Foundation partner school Carson-Newman University won a statewide award following an “Eagle Vote Project” campaign that helped college students register to vote.

Tennessee’s Secretary of State Tre Hargett and State Rep. Jeremy Faison last month presented students with a trophy in recognition of their winning efforts during the 2019 Tennessee College Voter Registration Competition in the category of private colleges and universities.

Related: Carson-Newman University honors two students with Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award

Participating students told Hargett that the campaign fit well with Carson-Newman’s culture of helping and welcoming others. Thomas Fodor, a senior political science major from Talbott, said he enjoyed interacting with students and reassuring them that voter registration is an easy process.

Hargett encouraged the students to continue urging their peers to vote. “You carry much more weight with your sphere of influence than I do,” he said. “It’s up to you to try to get people in your sphere of influence to vote. When people participate, our society, as a whole, wins.”

Faison echoed that encouragement, noting that most voters are over the age of 55.

“We often hear people fighting for their rights. The right to vote is a right that you have to exercise,” Faison said. “Fight for what you believe in.”

The competition took place during September in honor of National Voter Registration Month. Every college and university in the state had the chance to compete by registering the most students to vote and to spread awareness of the campaign on social media using the hashtag #GoVoteTN, along with their school-specific hashtag. For Carson-Newman, the latter was #EagleVote.

Related: Carson-Newman University addresses food insecurity among college students

The Eagle Vote Project is an effort of Dr. Kara Stooksbury’s senior seminar class. In 2019, the Bonner Center and Student Government Association also participated. In addition to social media, students set up tables in the cafeteria and student activities center and placed QR codes linking to online voter registration around campus.

“I’m so proud that my students are being recognized for their contributions to civic engagement,” said Stooksbury, chair of the Department of History, Political Science and Sociology. “Voting is one of our most important rights as citizens, and too often college students are left out of the electoral process because they don’t register to vote.”

Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: Jarren Small Teaches ELA Skills Through Hip-Hop

From pioneers like Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash in the 1970s to 21st century superstars like Drake and Kendrick Lamar, hip-hop and rap are as much about storytelling and inventive use of language as they are about music. No one understands that better than Jarren Small, the driving force behind an innovative educational curriculum called Reading With a Rapper (RWAR) and the keynote speaker at the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat.

The next Ignite Retreat takes place March 27-29 in Wake Forest, N.C. The weekend-long changemaking event features workshops, speakers and activities for college students with a strong interest in creating positive social impact and solving problems through social entrepreneurship. Click here to register or learn more about the Ignite Retreat.

Related: Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: Reagan Pugh builds connections through storytelling

Using relatable, innovative tools and metrics, the eight-week RWAR program is an interactive learning experience that teaches English Language Arts (ELA) skills in a way that’s guaranteed to make today’s young people sit up and listen. RWAR helps students in grades 4-12 to hone their reading and writing skills through a series of activities and exercises built around rap songs with socially conscious lyrics, video content and technology. Students learn how to relate real-world concepts expressed in rap music to literature and writing.

Added bonus: The kids also get to meet and learn from up-and-coming hip-hop artists and even established hitmakers like Meek Mill.

photo of Jarren Small, founder of Reading With a Rapper

Jarren Small works closely with educators to tailor the Reading With a Rapper curriculum to fulfill TEKS standards set by the state of Texas.

The hip-hop movement evolved from humble beginnings at society’s margins, but today it’s one of the dominant musical styles—probably the most popular in the U.S. Because of its specialized artistry and social relevance, it can also be a teaching tool to help young people thrive at the secondary and collegiate level, Small believes.

“Hip-hop uses so many principles within the ELA space that it’s almost identical to properly expressing yourself creatively from your own perspective,” Small says. “The majority of the time, as consumers, we’re listening to audio books from authors when we listen to hip-hop projects. Writing an essay is no different.”

Small spearheaded Reading With a Rapper as an offshoot of a Houston nonprofit he co-founded with his friend, Douglas Johnson. Legends Do Live works with disadvantaged youth and communities, providing workshops, tutoring sessions and entertaining social experiences. Small left his own corporate job in 2018 to focus fulltime on Legends Do Live. It was a challenging period of his life, he says.

Related: Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: Love Girls Magazine Jasmine Babers shines spotlight on “everyday girls”

“At that time, I started to go through my savings and ran my credit cards up and found myself at my lowest point going into the summer of being an entrepreneur,” he recalls. “I started working at a summer camp at my alma mater, Prairie View A&M University, where I would watch YouTube during my downtime.”

On YouTube, he came across an interview with Migos, a hip-hop group from Lawrenceville, Georgia, comprised of rappers who call themselves Takeoff, Offset and Quavo. “[The host] made them read a Dr. Seuss book in their rapping repertoire, and that’s where I had my light-bulb moment!” Small says. “I thought about how music can be such a positive tool to retain information, then started looking at how most artists use figurative language and tell unique stories all the time, similar to Dr. Seuss.”

“Finding a solution that could teach students how to read and write quicker and creating a better environment inside the classroom during school would be the ultimate win in my eyes,” he said.

Small and his Legends Do Live colleagues called that solution Reading With a Rapper. Noting that most rappers make creative use of metaphors, similes and personification in their songs, he realized he could employ music to teach these ELA concepts to young people.

this is a photo of a Reading With a Rapper class in action

Through eight-week programs and pop-ups, Reading With a Rapper uses rap lyrics to teach language and writing skills to school kids grades 4-12.

The RWAR program’s first week focuses on introducing the concept and working with teachers to identify ELA issues to be addressed. Small’s team then determines the kind of music and content that would best work for the class. The lessons focus on fulfilling the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards for what students should know and be able to do.

Using noise-canceling headphones and Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablets, students listen to relevant hip-hop music, watch videos and learn to dissect the content of the lyrics and to express their own thoughts creatively. RWAR also uses different types of lighting in the classroom to create the appropriate mood. The curriculum encourages classroom discussions on social justice, a central theme to many hip-hop artists’ work.

“We’ll talk about gun control, low self-esteem, certain things that kids are always dealing with but may not have a comfortable vehicle to talk about it,” Small has said in a Beyond Borders article on

At the end of the eight-week program, students compile and present an “album story”—their stories in essay form—in front of the class and are then surprised by a visit from the rapper whose lyrics they have been studying.

Related: Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: How Josh Nadzam outran poverty and now uses art to change kids’ lives

“Creating a safe space [for students] to express themselves is super-important to us at our organization,” Small said. “With the recent violence that has happened in our school systems in America, bringing back an environment that welcomes the students and lets them express what’s going on outside of school in school is vital.”

The curriculum also introduces students to technology they might otherwise not have access to. “Students and their parents want [the youths] to be involved with STEM projects or coding, but if their reading is not at a place where it should be, that would be a pipe dream,” Small points out. “Music production or writing within the entertainment space are some of the many points we want to bring to the table as well.”

Small’s organization also produces RWAR Unplugged, a live, educational and interactive hip-hop concert for adults with corporate sponsors like Jack Daniel’s and Microsoft. “We believe we can influence and create a reinvented nostalgia of the past where artists’ words, feelings, emotions and comments can be heard in a welcoming and intimate setting, accompanied by the RWAR style that they may have heard of and will be sure to feed the soul of any intellectual music lover,” Small says. “Proceeds collected will allow us to provide our curriculum for underserved schools free of charge.”

this photo shows rapper Meek Mill at a Reading With a Rapper event

Hip-hop superstar Meek Mill appeared at a Reading With a Rapper event to talk about his organization, the REFORM Alliance.

RWAR has even held a series of celebrated pop-ups and events at middle and high schools in Houston. Each pop-up features a rapper and incorporates their music into the program. A pop-up in early 2019 featured popular hip-hop artist and social justice advocate Meek Mill, who talked about his organization, the REFORM Alliance, which focuses on reducing the number of people unjustly trapped in the criminal justice system.

Small isn’t a newcomer to the Ignite Retreat, a twice-yearly changemaking event aimed at college students from across the country. He has served as a workshop speaker at past retreats, even before he started running Legends Do Live fulltime. “Coming back to be the keynote speaker only shows how important these types of retreats are,” he said. “I’m a product of the Ignite Retreats, and I want to be able to show the students present that anything is possible when you take the right information in and put the work in.”

“I’m hoping the attendees will learn that thinking out of the box can really work once you surround yourself with the right group of people,” Small added. “Make your business or your purpose bigger than you. Improving people with your ideas or gifts are the true reason we have them.”


Rhodes College Is a Top 10 Producer of Students Awarded Fulbright Grants

Sullivan Foundation partner school Rhodes College ranks No. 7 on the list of baccalaureate institutions producing the most 2019-2020 Fulbright U.S. Students.

The list is compiled by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s highly prestigious international educational exchange program, and participants are chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides grants for English teaching assistantships as well as for individually designed study/research projects.

Eleven candidates from Rhodes won Fulbright grants to serve as English Teaching Assistants for the 2019-2020 academic year. The college also was designated a top producing institution for Fulbright U.S. Students for the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 academic years.

Related: Editor of Rhodes College street newspaper hopes to drive social change through economics

“I think Rhodes students have done well because they have excellent leadership opportunities both at the college and beyond, which shows host countries that our candidates are mature, dedicated individuals,” said Dr. Robert Saxe, director of postgraduate fellowships, in a Rhodes College press release. “Our students have an edge working closely with staff and faculty, working important jobs on campus, doing significant research across the disciplines, and encouraging work in Memphis and abroad.”

“The incredible dedication of our faculty is a hallmark of the Rhodes experience,” added Dr. Milton Moreland, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Dr. Robert Saxe is a scholar and teacher who has given unceasingly of his time and expertise to help students receive amazing national and international fellowship opportunities. This honor from the Fulbright Foundation is a testament both to the incredible students at Rhodes and to Dr. Saxe’s dedication to them as a mentor and advisor.”

In addition to providing one-on-one advising, Saxe teaches a postgraduate scholarship workshop every spring. “In the class, the students learn the ins and outs of applying, how to craft an application, and also what an interview might look like,” he said. “Also, Erin Hillis’ Teaching English as a Foreign Language class has helped several students get certified in teaching English, and Amy Moen in Career Services has conducted mock interviews, which is a great help to candidates.”

Paul Burdette, who graduated from Rhodes in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in German and English, is one of the individuals who has benefited from the support of Rhodes faculty and staff. He won a Fulbright U.S. Student Award for the 2016-2017 academic year and worked as an English Teaching Assistant in Auerbach, Germany, where he taught English, U.S. Politics, and American History. Currently, Burdette is a protocol assistant for the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

“Upon completion of my Fulbright assignment in Auerbach, I worked for a year at the non-governmental organization Global Bridges in Berlin, which drew many of its employees from a pool of Fulbright recipients,” said Burdette. “Through this experience, I was able to broaden my knowledge in the field of foreign policy, which eventually led me to my current position at the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which happens to have been chaired by Senator William Fulbright himself back in the 1960s and 1970s. I have learned so much about the legislative branch’s role in the formation of United States foreign policy, while also furthering my knowledge of American politics. I have a lot to be thankful for, not only for the Fulbright scholarship, but especially for all the professors, coaches, and friends at Rhodes that supported me the entire way and continue to do so to this day.”

Related: Rhodes College student Seabelo John helps his peers confront international issues

As a 2017-2018 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Alor Gajah, Melaka, Malaysia, Rhodes alumna Meaghan Waff ran English-speaking workshops for students to improve their oral skills in addition to teaching in the classroom.

“The part about my Fulbright experience that most resonates with me is the fact that I was on the ground for the first democratic transition of power between political parties since Malaysia gained independence from the United Kingdom. Seeing how students were involved by putting up flags, how party politics played a role in conversations, and overall how the election occurred regardless of the obstacles, will never cease to amaze me,” said Waff. “The teaching assistantship has influenced my current work in a number of ways. I am currently pursuing a master’s degree at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law, and my experience in Malaysia consistently serves as something that compels me to research and study the region more.”

The process of applying for the Fulbright U.S. Student award is rigorous, yet it provides the opportunity for self-reflection that helps candidates in their future endeavors. “Even those who do not win awards have consistently reported back to me after graduation that their experience in applying helped them a great deal in figuring out their specific career goals,” says Saxe.

Currently, 22 Rhodes students are competing for Fulbright U.S. Student awards for 2020-2021.

This story was edited slightly from the original version on the Rhodes College website.

Berea College Joins National Partnership to Address Racial Disparities in Rural America

Partners for Education at Sullivan Foundation partner school Berea College has joined a partnership with Save the Children, StriveTogether and the Annie E. Casey Foundation to develop and launch a first-of-its-kind collective impact effort for rural America.

Designed to address complex social issues through a collaborative approach adapted to the unique needs and interests of rural communities, the effort has kicked off in three pilot communities—Perry County, Ky., Whitley County, Ky. and Cocke County, Tenn.—with the goal of improving children’s lives from cradle to career.

As part of the collaboration, the Rural Accelerator Initiative will provide $400,000 over three years to the three pilot communities—an unprecedented $1.2 million investment of funds to rural communities to align action plans developed in each community to prioritize kids and families.

Related: Sullivan Foundation partner schools Berea College, Alice Lloyd College recognized as tuition-free work colleges

“At StriveTogether, our mission is to help communities transform how they serve children and families,” said Jennifer Blatz, StriveTogether’s president and CEO. “We know we can achieve more by working together than apart and have proof from nearly 70 communities across the country that the collective impact of organizations working across sectors can influence outcomes for every child. We are excited to bring our proven approach to this initiative and are proud to be part of a landmark effort to accelerate results for youth and families in rural America.”

Rural collective impact combines leadership development, strategic investments, local partnerships and peer learning to ensure children in rural America enter school ready, have a successful education and leave high school prepared for a career or higher education. With the support from the national partners, rural communities are working to change local systems to improve results for children, with an initial focus on early developmental milestones of kindergarten-readiness and third-grade reading and math proficiency.

Related: Berea College lead nation in on-campus sustainability efforts

“We have the opportunity to harness the expertise of national leaders in education as well as the local communities where we work, to drive progress toward positive outcomes for children in rural America,” said Betsy Zorio, vice president, Save the Children’s U.S. Programs & Advocacy. “We are grateful to our partners for their support, skills and knowledge and look forward to working together to empower communities to create a successful cradle-to-career pathway for every child in rural America. It’s our ambition to take these learnings and scale to support the nearly 2.5 million children growing up in poverty in rural communities.”

“This Rural Accelerator Initiative recognizes that transformative and lasting change in rural communities must be led by community members,” said Dreama Gentry, executive director of Partners for Education. “To do this difficult work, communities need partners who can provide the resources needed to implement change, and we are proud to support the people in rural areas who are leading the way.”

“The Annie E. Casey Foundation has honed an approach to leadership development—called Results Count—that it’s bringing to the Rural Accelerator Leadership Program,” said Shanda Crowder, senior associate at the Casey Foundation. “Participants will become more skilled at making effective and lasting changes that will help children grow up healthier and better off.”

Building on the success of StriveTogether’s work in collective impact across the country, Save the Children’s legacy of serving children in rural America, Partners for Education’s achievements throughout Appalachia, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s powerful Results Count leadership development approach, the national partners plan to expand rural collective impact into additional communities in 2020.

Save the Children works in rural communities across the U.S. where child poverty rates are high and resources are low. StriveTogether is a national nonprofit network that supports children’s educational success. The Annie E. Casey Foundation is devoted to developing a brighter future for millions of children at risk of poor educational, economic, social and health outcomes.

This article was adapted slightly from the original version on the Berea College website.

Ferrum Promise Makes Path to Graduation Easier for Community College Transfers

Sullivan Foundation partner school Ferrum College is making a bold “Ferrum Promise” to students in Virginia: Beginning in Fall 2020, students who transfer from a Virginia community college with an appropriate associate’s degree will be able to graduate from Ferrum within two years of transferring or they will receive free tuition for the remaining coursework.

“Today, nearly 40 percent of students who graduate from a Virginia community college need three or more additional years to finish a bachelor’s degree because their new college will not accept many of their credits,” said Ferrum College President David Johns. “This is not what they expected—it’s frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive.”

this photo shows a potential beneficiary of the Ferrum Promise

The Ferrum Promise makes it easier for community college students to transfer to Ferrum College and then graduate in two more years.

Ferrum College already guarantees admission from all 23 community colleges in Virginia. The Ferrum Promise is the college’s next step to becoming even more transfer-friendly. It applies to all students who are enrolled fulltime, enter with an appropriate associate’s degree from a Virginia community college, and meet certain academic requirements.

Related: Berea College, Alice Lloyd College recognized as tuition-free work colleges

The Ferrum Promise encompasses many majors offered by Ferrum College, including its signature programs:

  • Agriculture
  • Business
  • Criminal Justice
  • Ecotourism
  • Environmental Science
  • Recreation Leadership
  • Social Work
  • Teacher Education

“We are excited to offer transfer students a seamless transition to Ferrum College, where they will receive individualized course mapping with our faculty,” said Provost Aimé Sposato.

“Ferrum College is student-centered and future-focused, and because of this, we are making a promise to our transfer students that will dramatically impact their future,” Johns said. “We support a vision of making college affordable, accessible, and even a little more predictable, and we promise to make this a reality for students who transfer to Ferrum College.”

Visit here to learn more about the Ferrum Promise and transferring to Ferrum College.


University of the South Recognized by Carnegie Foundation for Outstanding Community Engagement

The Carnegie Foundation has selected the University of the South for its 2020 Community Engagement Classification, a designation that indicates institutional commitment to community engagement. The classification was assigned after an extensive review of the college’s serious and sustained commitment to community engagement.

Sewanee, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, is one of only 18 U.S. liberal arts colleges focusing on the arts and sciences to receive this designation in 2020. A total of 119 institutions were classified.

“The Carnegie Foundation has acknowledged Sewanee’s excellent alignment among campus mission, culture, leadership, and resources, and its deep and significant commitment to community engagement,” said Vice-Chancellor and President John M. McCardell. “The dynamic and innovative work of the Office of Civic Engagement since its inception in 2015 has benefited the communities in which it works around the world, but especially here on the South Cumberland Plateau. My wife Bonnie and I are delighted to have played a role in supporting the University’s community engagement mission and look forward to its momentum continuing.”

Sewanee civic engagement programming seeks to engage with and benefit local communities. Partnering with the South Cumberland Community Fund in an innovative university-community collaboration, the Office of Civic Engagement supports an award-winning Americorps VISTA Program, a grants program, and a Sewanee student philanthropy program that distributes up to $30,000 per year to local organizations.

“This recognition by the Carnegie Foundation acknowledges the success of our unique model of cooperation with the University, a partnership between an institution of higher education and a rural philanthropic organization,” said Sheri Lawrence, the South Cumberland Community Fund board chair. “Together, we are achieving our mission of building on the strength of the area’s people, communities, and natural setting by enhancing community capacity and collaboration, and supporting innovative ways to solve community problems.”

Sewanee philanthropy interns are pictured here in 2018 with Nicky Hamilton, director of community development.

More than 80 percent of Sewanee students participate in some form of community service before they graduate. Director of Civic Engagement and Professor of Philosophy Jim Peterman points out that “the hallmark of Sewanee’s civic engagement is the way in which it seeks to achieve its mission: ‘To cultivate knowledge, resources, and relationships to advance the economic, social, and environmental well-being of our communities.’  We envision,” he said, “a Sewanee committed to active global citizenship, where community members, students, staff, and faculty work together for meaningful change.”

Sewanee’s civic engagement programs are wide-ranging. Students work in 75 local, academic-year internships to support Sewanee’s network of community partner organizations. In addition, Sewanee offers long-term projects in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Haiti, Jamaica, Miami, and New Orleans as part of its “alternative break” program. For students looking for intensive summer work experience, the Canale Summer Civic Engagement internships, the Ministry and Service internships, and the VISTA Summer Associate internships offer service opportunities locally, domestically, and internationally.

Faculty and students work in 24 academic courses per year to integrate academic learning with community benefits—the heart of Sewanee’s academic civic engagement work. For students interested in developing leadership skills and academic expertise in relation to their intensive community engagement projects, the Civic and Global Leadership Certificate program offers two academic tracks and culminates in a senior capstone project.

The Carnegie Community Engagement Classification has been the leading framework for institutional assessment and recognition of community engagement in U.S. higher education for the past 14 years. The classification is awarded following a process of self-study by each institution, which is then assessed by a national review committee led by the Swearer Center for Public Engagement at Brown University, the administrative and research home for the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification.

This story was edited slightly from the original version appearing on the University of the South website.