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.

Shenandoah University, Sullivan Foundation Partner to Educate Next Generation of Servant Leaders

By Meagan Harkins

Winchester, Va. is home to Shenandoah University, named for Zynoboa, a Native American chief admired throughout the Shenandoah Valley for his strength, courage and love of beauty. The Sullivan Foundation has long recognized these same qualities in the university that bears the great chief’s name.

Shenandoah first opened as a high school in 1875, and the Church of the United Brethren in Christ later chartered the school. After numerous mergers and affiliation changes, the institution became recognized as a junior college in 1924. With great leadership, Shenandoah went on to become a four-year private university with six locations.

An Alignment of Values
Shenandoah University began naming Sullivan Award recipients in 1973 and awarding Sullivan Scholarships to incoming freshmen in 2004.

Marguerite Landenburger, director of grants and research at Shenandoah, considers each aspect of the Sullivan partnership to be a crucial component of the university’s mission. “Having a scholarship that aligns with our values is a really powerful thing,” she said. “It helps us keep students that really exemplify our values when they might not be financially able to stay. And it also helps to motivate students to be engaged in things that really align with our value system.”

Landenburger distinctly remembers her fourth day on the job at Shenandoah University, the day on which that year’s Sullivan Award recipient was honored. During the recipient’s college years, she was deeply involved in social justice projects and conversations, honors societies and leadership roles on campus, Landenburger said.

The scholar was also surprised to receive the Sullivan Scholarship. “It was a surreal experience,” Landenburger recalled, with tears in her eyes. “It ended up being a really emotional event. It changed the course of her education.”

“She was engaged with a lot of different activities on campus, but she had a more challenging home life. She was sort of at a crossroads where she wasn’t even sure she was going to be able to afford her final two years in college. This was a major turning point for her, and receiving the scholarship made it possible for her to finish her education.”

Marguerite Landenburger

Impacting Lives
Landenburger now leads the committee that selects Sullivan Scholarship recipients. After lengthy deliberations, she said, “It almost becomes abundantly obvious who the winner should be.”

One Sullivan Scholarship Program essay, penned by Mark Isabelle, a childhood cancer survivor, moved Landenburger to tears. Isabelle was diagnosed with leukemia at five years old and underwent treatment for four years. To give back to those who fought the battle alongside him, Isabelle raises funds for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a childhood cancer research charity in Monrovia, Calif., and became a blood drive ambassador for the American Red Cross, coordinating enough drives in four years to impact 1,200 lives.

“I still remember the day I received the phone call from Dr. (Karen) Bucher announcing me as the recipient of the Sullivan Scholarship,” Isabelle said. “My mom and I sat in our family room with smiles on our faces and tears in our eyes.”

Seemingly everything had been going wrong in 2020, as his senior year of classes moved online due to COVID-19. Lacrosse season got canceled, too, along with his school’s graduation ceremony and plans for college tours.

“I still had yet to make the trip to the Shenandoah campus and was unsure I could afford to attend,” Isabelle said. “That phone call was definitely the bright spot of my day and my spring semester. I love it here at Shenandoah, and it’s all possible because of the Sullivan Scholarship.”

“He is doing so much to make the world a better place,” Landenburger said. “And that’s one of the things that I love about being involved with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation—reading the essays of these kids in the selection process. It’s awe-inspiring and makes me want to do more and be a better person.”

Emphasizing Servant Leadership
Beyond selecting Sullivan Scholars and honoring Sullivan Award recipients, Shenandoah University exhibits the principles of the Sullivan Foundation in its daily service-learning opportunities, specifically through the Office of Civic Engagement. “We are constantly advertising programming and opportunities for students to get involved in service work,” Landenburger said.

The Office of Civic Engagement helps partner students with service opportunities based on their interests, whether it be with the Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter, Literacy Volunteers, or Boulder Crest Retreat for Military and Veteran Wellness. Students can propose new projects and take part in the Leadership By Design Summer Program. Professors have also partnered to integrate service learning in their coursework.

Students learn to become servant leaders amidst the picture-postcard beauty of the Shenandoah University campus.

Most recently, the university partnered with the Winchester Rescue Mission. A vacant building was converted to an emergency homeless shelter amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, and students actively participate in supporting the facility and its residents.

Additionally, following the events of 2020, racial justice training has become mandatory for Shenandoah University faculty, staff and students, helping them to become stronger leaders and facilitators of meaningful and productive conversations about race and racial equity. A multidisciplinary committee on campus developed the training, and each trainee is given the opportunity to become facilitators.

“Asking students to volunteer their time to facilitate training is a wonderful growth and service-learning opportunity,” Landenburger said. “Sometimes it’s good for students to hear things from their peers—it’s more impactful.”

“The values of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation are so in line with the mission of Shenandoah University, it’s not even funny,” Landenburger added. “The emphasis on service and being a servant leader are really important values here on campus.”

 

A ‘Try Something’ Mindset Links Sullivan Foundation and Campbell University

By Meagan Harkins

Dating all the way back to 1974, the collaboration between the Sullivan Foundation and partner school Campbell University, located in Buies Creek, N.C., is “a story that needs to be told,” according to Dan Maynard, CU’s business librarian and former Sullivan liaison. It’s about more than a partnership between two venerable institutions—it’s also about students whose experiences with the foundation have led to meaningful personal growth while helping them to bring needed positive change to their communities.

“The framework of Sullivan is built around service—service to your community and to others,” Campbell University Associate Vice President for Spiritual Life Faithe Beam said. “That really is where the mission of Campbell lives. Campbell was started to educate students in rural communities so they could go serve their communities. Sullivan’s mission-driven connection to service and Campbell’s connection to service resonate so clearly.”

Ushering in a ‘Golden Age’
Campbell University has a long history of growth and community service. On January 5, 1887, 26-year-old Baptist minister James Archibald Campbell opened Buies Creek Academy. Classes were held at Campbell’s small church in Buies Creek, attracting 16 students on the first day of class. By the semester’s end, Campbell was leading 92 students on a path to academic excellence.

To meet the growing demand for high-quality education, the institution became Campbell Junior College in 1926, Campbell College in 1961, and Campbell University in 1979. Regardless of the name changes and restructuring, the university has prioritized using coursework to equip students for Christian service.

Those leading Campbell today, in the institution’s 134th year, continue to shape purposeful lives committed to service through moral courage, social sensitivity and ethical responsibility.

The Campbell-Sullivan partnership began in 1974—when the university was still Campbell College—with the Sullivan Awards, and Campbell started awarding Sullivan Scholarships to incoming freshmen in 2004.

J. Bradley Creed, president of Campbell University

Important to the partnership has been the relationship between Sullivan Foundation President Steve McDavid and J. Bradley Creed, who became president of Campbell University in 2015. Together, they created a series of courses titled “Discovering Underserved Communities.” This innovative three-part series is taught as a special topics honors course and has impacted the lives of numerous aspiring changemakers.

“Not only did we have a lot of really talented students involved, but Dr. Creed taught the class,” Maynard said. He described Fall 2017, when the course launched, as a new “golden age”—in fact, he attended every class himself.

Maynard said the Sullivan Foundation’s support has created endless opportunities to experiment with new ideas. Due to shared goals with the foundation, professors at Campbell have also begun incorporating Sullivan’s virtual Ignite Masterclasses, led by Spud Marshall, into their own courses.

Campbell University graduate Amber Merklinger was inspired to cofound Campbell CREATE after experiencing the Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreats and field trips.

A ‘Try Something’ Mindset
Campbell University has recognized service-minded students through Sullivan Awards for nearly half a century. But the students themselves have also strengthened the partnership, taking inspiration from Sullivan programming, such as the twice-annual Ignite Retreats and Social Entrepreneurship Field Trips. “They have really found energy and excitement in what is going on with entrepreneurship and service,” Beam said.

While still a student, Campbell alumnus and photographer Amber Merklinger attended the Fall 2018 Ignite Retreat and Sullivan’s Social Entrepreneurship Field Trip to Chattanooga, Tenn., in March 2019. Feeling empowered to help struggling communities, Merklinger put her studies in Health Communications and Public Relations to use. She worked with fellow students to launch Campbell CREATE, aiming to lead communities in their area to “discover and celebrate their own cultural advantages and heritage.”

After successfully pitching the project to the mayor and Board of Aldermen in Coats, N.C., Campbell CREATE started working to facilitate the creation of murals, statues, decorative benches and public seating areas around town, bringing in local craftspeople to beautify and enrich their surroundings. In addition to helping nearby communities “spur economic growth through local arts and culture,” Campbell CREATE aims to subtly orchestrate community identity for towns in need of a boost.

Merklinger was particularly impressed by creative placemaking efforts undertaken in Chattanooga by the Glass House Collective and Co.Starters. “I had never heard of creative placemaking until I went on this field trip,” she said. “It inspired us to start the process of emulating this concept on our own campus and in our surrounding communities. They took an issue they saw in the community and found a solution that impacted everyone in the city, bringing life to a [local] culture not easily seen. That’s the kind of thinking I wish to apply to my future endeavors as a social entrepreneur.”

Campbell University students are known for transforming their ideas and dreams into action plans that continue to make an impact after they’ve graduated. “When our students talk about their experiences with Sullivan and their experiences with Campbell, [they say], ‘I’m being prepared to be a leader in my community and to serve my community,’” Beam said.

“One of the main things that has come out of that is a different understanding of what entrepreneurship is,” she added. “It’s not just a businessperson with an idea—it’s a mindset. It’s students helping other students understand that you can have this mindset that says, ‘Try something.’”

Diane Ford, another Campbell University graduate, discovered her passion for helping others at her first Sullivan Foundation Ignite Retreat.

Another former student who dared to create and innovate is Diane Ford, a 2017 Campbell University graduate. At her first Ignite Retreat, she recognized that her passion was helping others achieve their dreams. As president of the university’s Social Entrepreneurship Club, she developed Campbell SOUP alongside faculty sponsor Maynard, who was also a 2015-2016 Sullivan Faculty Fellow. The project entailed a $5-per-person fundraising soup dinner at which local entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders took the stage to pitch project ideas and received helpful critiques from the audience.

Related: Diane Ford: From student to leader at Campbell University

One individual was awarded a cash grant for the winning idea, but everyone involved benefited, including Victoria Robinson, who pitched a life-coaching business in 2016 and whose company is thriving to this day. Student Justin Holmes also pitched a successful campus-based ride service.

Beam said Campbell SOUP allows solid entrepreneurial ideas to be funded, students to be paired with community members to gain experience, and community members to learn more about Campbell. She called it a “conduit for community engagement.”

“Students have an experience with a Sullivan event and feel so inspired by the experience that they want to bring it here,” Beam said, with their own rural or small-town communities reaping the benefits.

Beam said these experiences allow students to better identify and articulate their communities’ needs while also recognizing their assets. “It helps them think differently about their home communities that are rural and, in many ways, underserved and learn about that so they are better equipped to serve those communities,” she said.

The Social Entrepreneurship Club has served as a hub for developing that mindset campus-wide. In fact, student Chantella Crosby felt compelled to start the club after attending an Ignite Retreat as well as other Sullivan events. “That really was the genesis for the significant growth of Sullivan connections here at Campbell,” Beam said. The club has helped widen students’ attention beyond academic achievement, promoting widespread entrepreneurship and service.

Dan Maynard is a past Sullivan Faculty Fellow and liaison between the Sullivan Foundation and Campbell University.

Changing the Campbell Culture
Maynard fondly remembers when Crosby returned from the Ignite Retreat, bouncing off the walls with excitement and wanting to form the Social Entrepreneurship Club. “We could change the world,” she told him.

That was the beginning of Maynard’s heavy involvement with the Sullivan Foundation— experiencing it first through the eyes of a student and becoming a Sullivan Faculty Fellow himself in 2015. “It was simple, but it was quite powerful,” he said of the Faculty Fellows program. “My understanding was we were supposed to support each other and become an internal network among collegiate faculty.”

“It’s important because the ramifications of working together—between the network schools and the Sullivan Foundation—toward projects that are bigger than any of us separately has a huge potential,” Maynard said.

Maynard’s own Faculty Fellow Project involved turning Campbell University into a Sullivan Foundation campus. He said it took longer than expected, but he is now seeing it come to full fruition.

Utilizing Sullivan’s Campus Catalyst Guide, he wanted to encourage students and faculty to function independently as agents of positive change, then come together in partnerships. Maynard began by spreading awareness across the campus, then collaborating with those expressing sincere interest in changemaking. “The thing I thought was so cool about it was that it actually worked,” he said.

Maynard said Campbell’s partnership with the Sullivan Foundation has change the school’s culture, including the creation of a social entrepreneurship minor that launched in the Lundy-Fetterman School of Business.

Meanwhile, other faculty members continue to focus on engaging their own communities to create positive change, Beam said. “It has been a great outlet for our faculty to invest in their passions.”

Leading Changemakers Headline Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Masterclasses During March

The Sullivan Foundation has three new Ignite Masterclasses lined up for March, featuring four leading changemakers from around the country. The virtual classes, which are free and open to the public, will be followed in April by the debut of the foundation’s Skills-Based Sessions led by Reagan Pugh of Assemble.

Wednesday, March 3: Building Collaborative Partnerships
Sam Vaghar, executive director of the Millennium Campus Network (MCN), will headline this month’s first Ignite Masterclass, titled “How to Build Collaborative Partnerships That Advance Global Development.” The masterclass will be held Wednesday, March 3, in two sessions at 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. (ET). Click here to register for the first session and click here to sign up for the second session.

After a presentation on behalf of the U.S. State Department in Morocco, Sam Vaghar connected with youth and educators across six cities.

As a social entrepreneur, Vaghar is committed to helping young people own their voice and power to make a difference. As co-founder and leader of MCN, he has helped launch the Millennium Fellowship, a student movement for the UN Sustainable Development Goals in 20 nations. He has given talks at Harvard University, MIT, the White House, the United Nations and the Vatican, among other institutions, and has gone on speaking tours across four nations for the U.S. Department of State.

In his Ignite Masterclass, Vaghar will share tips for building transformative partnerships that support your efforts to create social impact, all based on his experience forging relationships with a multitude of groups, from the UN to hundreds of universities.

Thursday, March 11: Disrupting Harmful Stories
Ryan Pearson and Cornetta Lane of the Detroit Narrative Agency (DNA) will lead the second March masterclass, titled “Disrupting Harmful Stories of People and Places,” on Thursday, March 11. The class will be held in two sessions at 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. (ET). Click here to register for the first session and click here to register for the second session.

Pearson and Lane serve as co-directors of DNA, which was founded in 2015. DNA is a community organization that disrupts harmful narratives about Detroit by helping Black, indigenous and people of color in the Motor City explore and create media storytelling projects that build collective healing, power and liberation.

Cornetta Lane and Ryan Pearson

In their Ignite Masterclass, Pearson and Lane will explore how creation of social impact is interwoven with the need to create new narratives of what’s possible. Based on their work in Detroit, they will share examples of how to build narrative power by and for communities of color and engage communities more fully in the work of social change.

Thursday, March 18: Building Bridges of Empathy
Jordan Reeves, founder of VideoOut and VideoOut Entertainment, leads the discussion in the semester’s final Ignite Masterclass, titled “Building Bridges of Empathy Through Storytelling and Listening.” The sessions for this class will be held 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.

VideoOut is a nonprofit 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.

Jordan Reeves

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. In the March 18 Ignite Masterclass, Reeves will talk about how stories are both powerful tools for change as well as doorways into the hearts and minds of people all over the world. He will discuss the lessons he has learned and ways to scale movements that drive tangible change.

April: Skills-Based Sessions

The Sullivan Foundation will launch its new Skills-Based Sessions series on Wednesday, April 7. Led by Reagan Pugh, these sessions involve workshop activities that help you apply the concepts you’ll learn concretely to your own life and personal goals. Additional details will be provided later this month. Sessions include:

12 noon, Wednesday, April 7: How to Figure Out the Right Career for You

12 noon, Friday, April 16: How to Stop Wasting Time & Focus on What Matters Most

12 noon, Wednesday, April 21: How to Tell Your Story & Enlist Others in Your Cause

12 noon, Friday, April 30: How to Network and Get Mentors in a Virtual World

All times are Eastern time.