This LGBTQ Scholarship Is the First of Its Kind in the SEC

Food access, sustainability and conservation have become mainstream conversations worldwide. And while these issues are broad, too often, representation within these discussions is not, according to the University of Kentucky (UK), a Sullivan Foundation partner school.

To address the problem, the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment has launched the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Fund—the first of its kind in the Southeastern Conference. The fund was created with the intention of diversifying Kentucky agricultural and environmental industries.

The lack of diversity across agricultural and environmental leadership is compounding the immense challenges facing our planet. For rising leaders, this dilemma is all too real.

Related: Rollins College alumnus “Papa Viva” creates safe haven for families affected by AIDS

“As a minority in the state of Kentucky, I’ve experienced different encounters based upon my gender, race and sexuality,” said Iyahna Wilson, an agricultural education student at UK. “As an openly lesbian Black woman, I have participated in protests, held spaces for individuals like myself, and reflected on the experiences that I have encountered. At the University of Kentucky, as a minority it can be hard to express yourself if the spaces aren’t there for you.”

this photo shows Iyahna Wilson, a queer student who is excited about the new LGBTQ scholarship being offered at University of Kentucky

Iyahna Wilson

Understanding these student experiences, University of Kentucky staff and faculty are taking decisive steps in fostering more inclusive spaces and an equitable workforce.

“I hope the creation of this scholarship shows our students that everyone belongs here, and we are dedicated to their success,” said Mia Farrell, assistant dean and director for diversity in UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “While we know more can be done, this is a big step in the right direction.”

Thanks to a grant from JustFundKY, a nonprofit advocacy group for LGBTQ Kentuckians, a commemorative artwork has been commissioned to promote this new scholarship. The print, titled “Ag is for All: Diversity Feeds the World,” was created by queer Kentucky artist Wylie Caudill. Those interested in receiving the artwork may email their request to Seth Riker.

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

“While we know this scholarship will lessen financial burdens for our students, we also hope Wylie’s artwork will leave a lasting impression in the spaces it is posted,” said Carmen Agouridis, associate dean for instruction in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “Tomorrow’s solutions will require unique passions and skills from all backgrounds. And everyone should be able to contribute as their authentic self.”

Students like Wilson agree. “Thankfully, I have a cohort that allows me to express myself without judgement,” said Wilson. “I believe that individuals who are underrepresented should be allowed to express, experience and engage comfortably at their university.”

Those wishing to support this newly created scholarship may donate via University of Kentucky’s Network for Good website.

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

Cumberland University Offers Tuition-Free Education to Select Students in Tennessee

Cumberland University, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, has launched its Phoenix Promise program, giving qualified Tennessee students an opportunity to earn a four-year degree without paying tuition.

Cumberland has been a partner of the Tennessee Promise program since its inception, and the Phoenix Promise is intended to build upon the Tennessee Promise program and give more Tennessee students the opportunity to earn a baccalaureate degree.

Related: How tuition-free college works at Berea College and Alice Lloyd College

Since 2015, Cumberland’s total enrollment has increased by 74%, which is largely attributed to the implementation of the Tennessee Promise program. Since the start of the program, Cumberland has enrolled more than 2,000 Tennessee Promise students, and has seen a 528% increase in Tennessee Promise enrollment from 2015-2020. The university celebrated the largest graduating class in its 179-year history in May 2021.

“According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, on average a bachelor’s degree graduate makes nearly $1 million more in their lifetime than an associate degree graduate,” said Cumberland University President Dr. Paul C. Stumb. “We see the value in earning a four-year degree, and we’re helping remove financial barriers for deserving Tennessee students.”

“We believe that access to a better future should not be limited by financial restrictions,” Stumb added. “Cumberland leads the state in our Tennessee Promise completion rate, and we’re adding the Phoenix Promise to help those students earn a four-year degree and graduate from a private university without formidable student loan debt.”

The Phoenix Promise will allow eligible Tennessee students with the greatest financial need to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree from a private university without paying any tuition costs.

To be eligible for the Phoenix Promise, a student must be a rising sophomore or junior, have a valid FAFSA with an Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) of 3500 or below, have a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.75 on all college level work at the 24- and 48-credit-hour benchmarks, be a Tennessee resident and not be enrolled in a program with already available scholarships, such as nursing students, student athletes or fine-arts performing students.

Related: Ferrum College’s Ferrum Promise makes path to graduation easier for community college transfer students

The Phoenix Promise is available to both current Cumberland students as well as students wishing to transfer from community colleges or other qualified institutions.

“I work with Tennessee Promise students every day that want to continue their education after earning an associate degree but aren’t sure if it’s financially feasible for them,” said CU’s Director of Retention and Tennessee Promise Abby Pitts. “This scholarship gives students an opportunity to reach their goal of earning a bachelor’s degree and bettering their lives for themselves and their families.”

For more information on the Phoenix Promise, visit or contact The Office of Financial Aid at 615-547-1399 or

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

Down Syndrome Is No Barrier to Entrepreneurship for This Clemson LIFE Graduate

In only a year since graduating from Sullivan Foundation partner school Clemson University, Lucy Graham has grown her own jewelry business, the Upside Down Collection, into a thriving online and increasingly in-person business.

The business doubles as an advocacy platform for people with intellectual disabilities—its mission is to share “the upside of Down syndrome”—much in the same way the University’s Clemson LIFE program sends a message to anyone who might doubt the abilities of its students.

A Clemson LIFE graduate, Lucy is proof-positive that those doubts are increasingly without merit. The Clemson LIFE program is a post-secondary education program for students with intellectual disabilities. It prioritizes job skills and independent living, and Lucy is one of the program’s many alumni with Down syndrome.

Related: Shepherd Hotel to employ adults with intellectual disabilities from Clemson LIFE Program in 2021

Lucy didn’t catapult to her current role alone. She was supported by her parents, Bob and Susan Graham of Columbia, S.C., as well as the entire Clemson LIFE staff, most notably Sarah McAlpine, an employment instructor in the program who has become a close friend to Lucy. After four years in the role, Sarah is aware that growth among her students changes depending on their learning style and their particular intellectual disability. But she said the support Lucy enjoyed from her family made unlocking Lucy’s potential much easier.

“Lucy’s family is incredible, and they’ve given her every opportunity—they gave her wings,” Sarah said. “But you can’t fly until you’re on your own, and I can say I got to see Lucy soar when she got to the Clemson LIFE program.”

Lucy Graham, founder of The Upside Down Collection, graduated from the Clemson LIFE program in 2021.

Lucy finished the program as COVID-19 suspended in-person learning at Clemson in spring 2020, so she graduated a year later on April 24 along with the Clemson LIFE class of 2021. Bob said that, before joining Clemson LIFE, Lucy had benefitted from the curriculum for high school students with intellectual disabilities at Cardinal Newman School in Columbia. Much like the LIFE program, students at Cardinal Newman enjoy a simplified curriculum, and they are largely folded into the same activities as other students. At the time, Lucy was a cheerleader and manager on the basketball team.

Bob said Lucy and his family have enjoyed encouragement and support over the years from their friends and community. Bob said the true value in the LIFE program for Lucy was less about learning to fight negative stigma and more about the lessons that came from living and working independently.

Lucy has translated the skills she learned from the LIFE program into the Upside Down Collection. She not only designs and assembles the jewelry, but she also prepares, packages and ships most of the orders she puts together.

The Upside Down Collection includes this “Let Me Have Faith” bracelet.

“The Upside Down Collection is important because it helps to show people I am more than my disability,” Lucy said. “My business gives me confidence that I can design and sell jewelry and be successful. It’s fun to model the jewelry and hang out with my friends.”

According to her dad, Lucy “is in control of her day, and she enjoys being able to make decisions on her own without me or her mom telling her what to do. We’re all kind of learning as we go with how to run a business like this. Honestly, the further down the road we get, the clearer it is that this is a real career path for her.”

The idea for the Upside Down Collection came from a conversation between Bob, Susan and Sarah about the best type of post-graduation position for Lucy. They knew her love for modeling jewelry was matched only by how much she enjoyed exercising her creative muscles. She could easily handle a job in a coffee shop or a gym, but they worried that those positions wouldn’t appeal to her creative side.

Related: University of Alabama creates free program to help children with disabilities and developmental delays

The jewelry business was an obvious solution, and the Graham family invited Sarah to join them as a business partner. When they first started getting the business off the ground, Sarah would begin individual pieces and Lucy would assemble the final half, but they have quickly started ordering material that Lucy can complete from beginning concept to finished product. Bob is continually impressed with how well the pieces sell, and he is the proud holder of one of Lucy’s first creative pieces.

“Lucy went to camps with girls without disabilities since she was six or seven years old, and I still have an ‘I Love Dad’ card she made for me back then,” Bob said. “That’s not for sale.”

Lucy Graham and Sarah McAlpine became close friends during Lucy’s time with the Clemson LIFE program.

As Lucy made her way through the Clemson LIFE program, Sarah enjoyed seeing her social skills develop quickly. Lucy took classes, joined a sorority, got into yoga, and became what Sarah calls a “top-tier” Clemson football fan who would put almost anything on hold to enjoy a game.

“The Clemson LIFE program was a great experience and has helped me with my disability and made me a successful person,” Lucy said. “I really enjoyed being in the LIFE program with my friends and making new friends there.”

Related: George Mason University graduate advocates for those with “invisible disabilities”

Lucy enjoyed the life of a college student that so many people with intellectual disabilities would never normally experience, but Sarah’s job is to prepare students for what comes after. As an employment instructor for Clemson LIFE, Sarah plays a key role in helping students learn essential job skills while coordinating employment with 38 different employment and business partners, roughly half of which exist outside of the university.

Lucy worked during college at a location of the Your Pie pizza chain, one of many restaurants that partner with Clemson LIFE. With help from the program, Lucy excelled in the job just as she excelled at living independently with other students during the final half of her four years at Clemson. If self-employment with the Upside Down Collection wasn’t in the cards for her, Sarah is sure that Lucy would currently be some lucky business’s top employee.

It’s not just her creativity, according to Bob, but the “soft skills” that Lucy developed in Clemson LIFE that helps her sell what she creates. The trunk shows and in-person selling was abbreviated this past year due to COVID-19, but Lucy thrives on interacting with customers on social media and is eager to get back to in-person selling.

this photo shows a set of bracelets offered by The Upside Down Collection, a business started by Lucy Graham, who has Down syndrome

These bracelets were developed in a collaboration between The Upside Down Collection and Pals Programs.

Lucy also enjoys giving back to and supporting the Down syndrome community. She and her family developed the Rainbow Collection of jewelry to benefit Ruby’s Rainbow, a nonprofit with a mission to grant scholarships to adults with Down syndrome who are seeking post-secondary education, enrichment or vocational classes. Additionally, the Upside Down Collection has featured bracelets developed in collaboration with Pals Programs, which creates inclusive camp experiences for individuals with or without Down syndrome.

Sarah said that every piece of jewelry that sells and every person Lucy meets is another mindset changed for the better.

“People with intellectual disabilities and their families are told too many times—and often by people who should know better—that they can’t do this or that,” Sarah said. “The Graham family wants people to see that Down syndrome doesn’t mean ‘can’t,’ and the Upside Down Collection sends that message loud and clear.”

For more about the Upside Down Collection, check out the website or visit the business on Facebook and Instagram.

This article has been edited and slightly expanded from the original version appearing on the Clemson University website.

UNA-USA Seeks Next Youth Observer to the United Nations

Young Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 are invited to submit their applications to serve as the UNA-USA’s 10th Youth Observer to the United Nations.

Applications must be submitted by Sunday, June 13. Click here to apply.

For a one-year term, the UNA-USA Youth Observer elevates youth voices in global policy dialogue around international issues; engages and connects young people in the U.S. to the work of the United Nations; and travels across the U.S. to discover the issues important to young Americans.

The most critical role of the Youth Observer is to engage young Americans in the work of the UN and its agencies.

Throughout their term, the Youth Observer will attend UN briefings, both virtually and in person; organize and speak at national events; participate in coalitions to support a strong U.S.-UN partnership; and serve as a UNA-USA delegate at UN conferences.

Dustin Liu is wrapping up his year as the UNA-USA Youth Observer to the United Nations

This position requires a commitment of about eight to 10 hours per week and occasional travel to New York City, Washington, D.C., and other U.S. cities. (All travel is tentative, pending a lift on COVID-19 restrictions as determined by the CDC and its guidelines.)

Dustin Liu, the 2020-21 UNA-USA Youth Observer, has worked with the Sullivan Foundation over the past year. In February 2021, he shared his story and ideas for sparking global social change on the local level in the Foundation’s first Ignite Masterclass for the Spring 2021 semester.

In April 2021, Liu also served as a coach in the Sullivan Foundation’s Skills-Based Sessions, a unique virtual series featuring workshop activities that helped students achieve their personal goals and live a more productive and meaningful life.

Campbell University Students Build Award-Winning Rover for Manned Space Missions

A team of students from the School of Engineering at Sullivan Foundation partner school Campbell University won two national awards in a NASA competition focused on designing new technologies for manned space missions to the moon, Mars and other planets.

In NASA’s 27th annual Human Exploration Rover Challenge (HERC), the Campbell team took home the Ingenuity Award and the Project Review Award in the college/university division, besting schools from all over the world in those categories. It was only the third time Campbell’s students have competed in the event.

NASA HERC encourages student teams from the United States and around the world to push the limits of innovation and imagine what it will take to explore other worlds in the universe. Competing teams were challenged to design, build and test a human-powered rover on a course that simulated the terrain found on rocky bodies in the solar system. While negotiating the course, the teams also had to perform mission tasks, including sample retrievals and spectrographic analysis.

Related: Past Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award recipient helps prepare girls of color for careers in science

“The two awards we won—innovation and documentation—were the culmination of many hours of hard work and dedication,” said CU senior mechanical engineering major Ethan Barry. “Our rover is innovative in the sense of material, included features and sleek design. It consists mostly of carbon fiber and aluminum, both of which were selected for their favorable strength-to-weight ratio. We included features like four-wheel drive, continuously variable transmissions and a rack-and-pinion steering system.”

“For documentation, we simply recorded the entire process in a reasonable manner, compiled this information into cohesive reports for NASA, and presented our report virtually to a panel of judges,” Barry said. “Campbell prepared us well to draft technical documents and present as a team.”

Engineering Dean Dr. Jenna Carpenter said she was proud of Campbell’s HERC team, which she said spent “many, many hours” outside the classroom not only building their rover, but writing reports, making presentations and engaging in outreach activities with K-12 students.

this photo shows the space mission rover designed by mechanical engineering students at Campbell University for NASA HERC.

“We are particularly pleased that they were recognized for their outstanding written and oral communication skills and for ingenuity in solving difficult problems in innovative ways,” Carpenter said. “We emphasize both of these skills throughout our innovative curriculum. And, of course, this team would not exist without their outstanding faculty mentor, Dr. Lee Rynearson.”

Rynearson said he knew they had a strong team heading into this year’s event, having worked to iterate and improve on designs and documentation. But he also knew the competition—which consisted of 43 U.S. and international colleges and universities—would be stiff.

Related: Ole Miss journalism students investigate climate change in Mississippi

“We thought we might be in the running if we took what we have learned in previous years and brought our full effort to bear,” he said. “Winning two of the nine awards categories shows that student engineers from our program can compete and win against some of the best young engineers from around the world. I am very proud of the work of our team and the recognition that they have earned.”

Christian Ruesch, the lead engineer on the team and a mechanical engineering senior, said he was “unbelievably proud” of the team. “The legacy of myself and the other graduating seniors on the team will live on through the mentorship and training we imparted on the younger classes of engineers,” he said. “Their potential for greatness is incalculable, and I look forward to seeing how they use it to move the team into new levels of excellence.”

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

Next Skills-Based Session: How to Prioritize Your Mental Health to Create Real Impact

Too many of us spend so much time taking care of the people we love that we forget to take care of ourselves. In the Sullivan Foundation’s next Skills-Based Session, facilitator Ronan “Chalky” Mac Domhnaill of Cred.Global and a team of coaches will encourage participants to look inward first so they can be more effective changemakers.

The virtual session, titled “How to Prioritize Your Mental Health to Create Real Impact,” will be held at 10 a.m. (ET), Friday, April 23. It’s free and open to the public.

Click here to sign up for the free session.

In this interactive session, participants will learn to recognize what they’re doing well to support their own mental health and well-being. They’ll also identify some early warning signs that indicate they might be falling into bad habits and become more aware of their personal support networks.

They will walk away with a personalized “well-being canvas” that can be used to hold themselves accountable and build habits that stick.

Photo by Anna Shvets of Pexels

Related: Learn about additional Sullivan Foundation programming for college students and changemakers

Other coaches participating in the Skills-Based Sessions include Sam Vaghar of the Millennium Campus Network; Dustin Liu, the U.S. Youth Observer to the United Nations; Jonathan Kibe, founder of the LOVE Project; Ben Zapchenk, a former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer and English-as-a-Second Language instructor in Marrakech, Morrocco; fundraiser and marketer Danielle Biggs; human rights activist Ashley Madrigal; Brandi Jordan, founder of Remote Ramblers; Jordan Reeves, founder of VideoOut; Mentor Dida, a movement-building consultant to the UN; Megan Truman of City Year, D.C.; Marcela Fernandez, brand ambassador for Selina, one of the world’s top startups serving the digital nomad community; international consultant Sara Hoy; and Luz Cabrera of Young People For, a program of the People for the American Way Foundation.

Next Skills-Based Session: Personal Storytelling and Enlisting Others in Your Cause

“So what are your plans after college?” It’s a question many seniors dread even if they know the answer. It feels like you’re being sized up by the person asking the question—it almost feels like a dare. “Answer correctly or be judged!”

In the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Skills-Based Sessions masterclass, facilitator Reagan Pugh and his team of coaches will help students learn to convey their personal stories in an effective and compelling way. Titled “How to Tell Your Story & Enlist Others in Your Cause,” the session takes place at 12 noon (ET), Wednesday, April 21. It’s free and open to the public.

Click here to sign up for this free Skills-Based session.

The truth is, giving the “right answer” to that question isn’t the problem. The problem has to do with what you believe about yourself and recognizing your skills and interests. If you have a better idea of who you are, what you care about and what you’re capable of, you can answer with confidence.

In the upcoming session, you’ll learn about the right mindsets you need to tell your story as well as strategies to reflect on your life and future path, all in order to communicate with clarity and confidence.

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.

Other coaches participating in the Skills-Based Sessions include Sam Vaghar of the Millennium Campus Network; Dustin Liu, the U.S. Youth Observer to the United Nations; Jonathan Kibe, founder of the LOVE Project; Ben Zapchenk, a former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer and English-as-a-Second Language instructor in Marrakech, Morrocco; fundraiser and marketer Danielle Biggs; human rights activist Ashley Madrigal; Brandi Jordan, founder of Remote Ramblers; Jordan Reeves, founder of VideoOut; Mentor Dida, a movement-building consultant to the UN; Megan Truman of City Year, D.C.; Marcela Fernandez, brand ambassador for Selina, one of the world’s top startups serving the digital nomad community; international consultant Sara Hoy; and Luz Cabrera of Young People For, a program of the People for the American Way Foundation.

Learn more about the Skills-Based Sessions coaches here.

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

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.