Letter from the president

With this seventh issue of Engage, we enter the fourth year of the magazine. This issue, as usual, features some colleges and people we’ve seen before as well as some new perspectives on our thriving network. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing what the Sullivan Foundation and its members have going on.

The Foundation is always striving to grow so we can take the valuable impact we have in communities and expand it to affect even more lives. In the coming months, we’ll be introducing even more ways for you to connect with us—through media as well as through new programs. We’re also looking at ways to not only increase our financial resources but also how to use those resources more efficiently to support students and faculty and make real change in the world. I hope to have an update on that in the spring issue.

We’re also committed to our existing programs and continuing to improve on them. Our Ignite student retreats continue to thrive, but we’re working on ways to keep students engaged once the weekend is over. Our Faculty Summit is building momentum and increasing the number of involved faculty in our network.

The more we connect, the more we can accomplish. I am as proud as ever of the work we do, and we want to make sure you stay connected to us, so feel free to reach out, to let us know how we can help you as you help others. As always, remember to engage.


Stephan L. McDavid
President, Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation

A legacy of service

One family makes a 15-year mark on the University of Virginia

Kate Whelan was the last of five siblings to attend the University of Virginia in a row. Her older brother, Kevin, received a Sullivan Award in 2001

When students decide to attend a college following in the footsteps of a relative who attended previously, they are known in university admissions-speak as a ‘legacy.’ It’s a bit of a grandiose term for a pretty common occurrence. Not so, however, in the case of the Whelan family at the University of Virginia.

The family consists of parents Pam and Will Whelan—who moved the family to Vienna, Virginia 30 years ago in part because of the excellent public education system in the state—and their five children: Matthew, Kevin, Elizabeth, Joseph, and Kate.

The siblings took full advantage of that educational system. All five attended the University of Virginia and created a streak in which at least one Whelan was a student over a span of 15 years, from 1996 to 2011.

The commitment to U.Va. is not the only thing the Whelan children have in common. The family has always emphasized service. In fact, Kevin, the second oldest Whelan, received a Sullivan Award upon his graduation in 2001.

“Service has always been important in our family,” says Will Whelan. “As a father that really makes me proud. That tells me that Virginia is a good place, an outstanding university, where service is cultivated.”

Fifteen years in five careers

Matthew, 33, graduated in 2000, majoring in religious studies and English. After graduation, he worked for the Peace Corps in Honduras and earned a master’s degree in agriculture in Costa Rica.

Kevin, 32, graduated in 2001 from the honors program in government and foreign affairs. He won the Raven Award in addition to his Sullivan Award, recognizing in particular his deep involvement in Madison House volunteer service programs. In the summer of 2000, he had a fateful internship with the policy-planning unit in the office of former Secretary of State Madeline Albright; he now works as a lawyer for the State Department.

Elizabeth, 29, was a Phi Beta Kappa English and religious studies major in the class of 2003. A passion for photography began in high school and led her to do several U.Va. photography projects, including documenting the Kasisi Orphanage in Lusaka, Zambia where many of the children have AIDS. Funded by a Harrison Undergraduate Research grant, she documented the role of religion in a remote village in Honduras struggling to recover from Hurricane Mitch, with the resulting photos and related poems and essays eventually published in U.Va.’s undergraduate research journal, Oculus, and the Women’s Center’s journal, Iris.

Joseph, 25, earned his bachelor’s degree in 2007, majoring in religious studies and anthropology, then joined the Peace Corps. He now works as a ranger at Denali National Park in Alaska. He does interpretive work and interacts with visitors in three languages.

Kate, the last Whelan to graduate, worked with the Catholic Student Ministry group and lived in and worked for a Catholic shelter in New York City for women and children facing domestic abuse or homelessness. Her first job after college was with the Innocence Project, which works to exonerate those wrongfully convicted of crimes and pushes for other reforms that might prevent future wrongful convictions.

A lasting impact

While this group of siblings certainly has a great deal in common, each of them found their own way.

“None of us felt as if we were conforming or following in footsteps,” Kate said. “It was a coincidence in a way.”

And just as U.Va. had a profound impact on the Whelans, the family left quite a mark on the university.

“My gratitude to the Whelan parents, Pam and Will, is enormous,” says Vanessa Ochs, a religious studies professor. “They have raised up the kind of young people that teachers dream of educating: smart, focused, compassionate, self-critical, and always aware of the big picture.”

Ochs and her husband Peter, also a religious studies professor, taught all five of the siblings at one point or another. The families have become close friends.

“I would be altogether bereft,” says Ochs, “if not for the fact that there are tiny Whelans who may one day come our way.”

Did you know?

George Sullivan, son of Algernon and Mary, was the founder of the Sullivan Foundation

When Algernon Sydney Sullivan died on December 4, 1887, he was mourned by many, especially in New York, where the family had lived for more than three decades. Mary Mildred Sullivan outlived her husband by many years, dying in 1933 at the age of 96, and left behind a tremendous legacy of service in her own right.

It’s possible, however, that the Sullivans would be mostly forgotten had it not been for the efforts of George Hammond Sullivan, who, with his mother’s help, created the Foundation in 1930 and went on to define its purpose and ensure its continued existence.

While the charter for the Foundation was granted in 1930, it remained inactive for several years as George cared for his dying mother. After her death, however, he took an active role, serving as its first vice-president and determining how its resources would be put to use.

The first two grants made, at a meeting in November 1934, were $85 to Rollins College for prizes for the three best student essays on the life and character of Algernon Sullivan and $200 to Peabody College for four scholarships to be awarded to students picked by the faculty for their “character and meritorious service.” The beginnings of the Foundation as it is known today can be seen even that long ago.

The Foundation was tasked with continuing to bestow Sullivan Awards after the decline of the New York Southern Society, which created them. George Sullivan took it upon himself to expand upon that singular task and define the Foundation’s culture.

The Sullivan House, on West 11th Street in New York City, depicted during the Sullivans’ time in New York in a drawing by W.E. Mears on the left and in a modern-day photograph of the Sullivan House courtesy of Google at right.


One of his most important acts was the writing of a letter on the direction the trustees should take in the future, which he read aloud at a meeting. He told them he and his mother had always felt that “perpetuating the influential usefulness of (Algernon Sullivan’s) character would be of great value to others” and that he wanted the Foundation to draw on its income to grant scholarships and student-aid funds in “as many colleges or universities as possible.”

Many of the most identifiable traits of the Sullivan Foundation today—the focus on Southern schools, the inclusion of mostly small colleges and universities, and the focus on service over all other criteria in the handing out of awards and funds—are largely due to the work of George Sullivan.

Despite a lifetime filled with bouts of poor health, Sullivan lived a long and consequential life. He died on November 15, 1956, at the age of 96—the same as his mother—and lived in the same house he had shared with his parents until his death.

Sullivan Superstar

Berry College’s Elly Rusia takes advantage of all the Foundation has to offer and uses it to make a difference

When recent Berry College graduate Elly Rusia thinks back on her experiences with the Sullivan Foundation, she has a little trouble remembering exactly how it all started.

“It’s hard to pinpoint,” she says. “The whole thing just felt so natural.”

Her best guess is a workshop she attended on the Rome, Georgia, campus earlier in her college career. Spud Marshall, the Foundation’s Director of Student Engagement was there along with Alan Webb, a frequent facilitator at the Foundation’s “Ignite” retreats. The purpose of the workshop was introducing students to social entrepreneurship and filling them in about the ways the Foundation could help them.

One of Rusia’s advisors encouraged her to go to Ignite. She took the advisor’s advice… four times over. Rusia attended four retreats over the next couple of years and took the things she learned back to improve her campus, serving as one of the Foundation’s Campus Catalysts. The Catalysts’ goal is to create a team of students that work to make their campuses more dynamic places to learn about social innovation. It all started with Ignite!

“The retreats that Sullivan hosts are so amazing,” Rusia says. “They build this community in a short weekend, and I really come back feeling recharged and ready to take on the world.”

Reaching out and branching out

Her work as a catalyst and status as a retreat attendee are plenty to make Rusia a superstar in terms of her engagement with the Foundation, but it doesn’t end there. After her Junior year, she really wanted to do something unconventional instead of the same typical internships most students seek.

“I didn’t want to be in a place where I had to be in an office or corporate America,” she says.

She’d pinpointed where she wanted to be—Latin America—and how she wanted to get there. The nonprofit Social Entrepreneur Corps program sends students to Latin American countries to work as consultants with other local nonprofit agencies. The only problem for Rusia was that she didn’t have the funds to go. Sullivan had done so much for her in the past to further the goal of social engagement, so she decided to reach out.

She wrote an essay detailing her passion for the work and the good she thought it would do for her as well as the good she could do while there learning. She was given a grant, and was on her way.

“I can’t fully express how thankful I am to the Sullivan Foundation and how they’ve impacted me and encouraged me throughout my time with them,” she says.

Bringing it back home

Resources spent on Rusia have turned out to be a great investment for Sullivan. In addition to her work abroad, she enriched the Berry campus with several projects that helped bring the Foundation directly to the students.

With the help of a team she assembled at Berry, Rusia organized an ongoing series they call “Changemaker Chats,” which she describes as a sort of mini-Ignite retreat where likeminded students can get together, share and critique ideas, and build a true social innovation community.

From there, Rusia’s team dove into a second project—the Social Impact workshop. The workshops are designed to give participants a toolkit to help them get started with social ventures, teaching practical skillsets from interpersonal communication to business models.

The workshops center on particular social issues. The first one was called “Stigmas of Mental Illness.” The team put lots of effort into the preparation, but Rusia had no idea how much interest there would be.

“We didn’t plan for the amount of people that actually did show up, and there was a lot of talk on campus,” she says. “We had to get extra chairs.”

A maker of changemakers

Rusia is a perfect example of the kind of changemaker the Foundation hopes to mold, and now, she’s a maker of changemakers herself. Less than a year out from graduation, the road ahead for her could go just about any direction. She’ll always remember where it started, though.

“I’m so thankful to the people that have really invested in me,” Rusia says. “People like (retreat facilitators) David and Spud and Alan and Chad and Alexis. They do so much prep and they work so hard to have a wonderful, packed, amazing weekend. I’m also thankful for (Foundation president) Steve McDavid. I know he works hard to oversee all the operations behind the scenes. It’s truly been a wonderful time that I’ve had with them.”

Letter from the president

Thank you, to our students, alumni, and friends. This is the ninth issue of Engage, and and I couldn’t be more excited for you to read it. This issue is truly broad—it features our students, our schools, our alumni, and our faculty—resulting in a magazine that really explores the full spectrum of the Foundation.

Issue nine features young people who have achieved much but still put the needs of others first—like Deterrian Shackelford of the University of Mississippi—as well as older Sullivan alums like Jewel Bell, who received her Sullivan Award decades ago but began her journey as a servant leader decades even before that.

The Foundation is looking ahead toward further expansion and diversification. It’s an exciting time for all of us. However, even as we look forward, we cannot ignore the things, and people, we’ve left behind. Within the last several months, the Foundation lost Clay Crouch, a descendant of Algernon Sydney Sullivan and a longtime member of the Board of Trustees. Clay’s devotion to this organization should stand as an inspiration to us all, and we remember him fondly. A brief obituary is included in this edition of Engage, on page 15.

This issue also welcomes a relative newcomer to the Sullivan network—Campbell University—with an extensive article on that school’s efforts, which reminds us that the Foundation always has new ground to cover. I hope we do so, and do it well.

Thank you for reading, and please stay in touch,

Stephan L. McDavid,


Cooking Up Social Change

Campbell University nurtures students to become changemakers of the highest order

Daphanie Doane (left) and Kelly Fuqua are Trust and Wealth majors in Campbell’s Lundy-Fetterman School of Business. Vice president and president, respectively, of the Social Entrepreneurship Club, they both plan to apply their education to social engagement and change.

Campbell University, a growing campus that has anchored Buies Creek, North Carolina, since its 1887 founding as Buies Creek Academy, didn’t have to become a Sullivan School to lead its students into lives of service. The institution’s mission is “to graduate students with exemplary academic and professional skills who are prepared for purposeful lives and meaningful service.”

But Campbell’s focus on civic responsibility converges perfectly with the Sullivan Foundation’s support of changemakers intent on improving lives and outlooks.

Campbell’s more than 6,200 students prepare to be servant leaders in disciplines from business to medicine, sports management to engineering, divinity to homeland security, to name just a few. The student body logs an average of 80,000 service hours yearly in projects such as an annual spring Inasmuch Day of Service and a Mustard Seed Community Garden that donates produce to a local food pantry.

Ready to ignite

Campbell’s longtime focus on service today aims directly at the needs of underserved communities–globally, nationally, and especially in rural areas. Intent on building on Campbell’s history with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation, the office of its president, Dr. J. Bradley Creed, last August issued a University-wide memo calling on all undergraduate deans to nominate their most promising changemakers to attend the October 2017 Ignite retreat in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

Not surprisingly, Kelly Fuqua and Daphanie Doane, the president and vice-president of Campbell’s Social Entrepreneurship Club, respectively, were among the 11 Campbell Camels who attended the retreat. Both were attending Ignite for the second time. They went to Ignite the first time to define social entrepreneurship for themselves.

Students enjoy their meal together while they discuss their votes

“Last year I attended the Ignite retreat to truly get a better understanding of what social entrepreneurship is and what it means to be a social entrepreneur,” says Doane. “It really opened my eyes into the world of social change and what I could do to better my local community.”

This time around, Fuqua and Doane went to Ignite to hone their skills at organizing, networking, fundraising, and promoting social change programs on campus. Involved in myriad projects and carrying hefty course loads, both name Campbell SOUP as their “pet project” and want to boost student participation for the next event.

Hungry for innovation

Students ladle up bowls of soup as they prepare to hear pitches at the Campbell SOUP competition

Based on a Detroit SOUP community peer-to-peer funding model launched in 2010, Doane describes Campbell SOUP as “a micro-granting dinner that provides the opportunity for local start-ups, non-profits, or anyone with an idea to win funds to support their project.” Attendees pay $5 at the door for a meal of bread, salad, soup, a drink, and a voting ballot. They listen to presenters’ five-minute pitches, then vote to fund the most deserving, winner-take-all project.

SOUP at Campbell was started in 2016 by the Social Entrepreneurship club’s then-president Diane Ford, who also attended two Ignite retreats, including one with Doane and Fuqua. After hosting successful events in November 2016 and April 2017, Ford graduated in May and handed over the reins of the club, and the SOUP, to her friends.

Attendees of the most recent SOUP came to Campbell’s Lynch Auditorium and voted Buddy Backpack of Angier the winner, providing the organization with the proceeds of the evening, matched by the Campbell Office of Spiritual Life. Buddy Backpack provides low-income elementary schoolers with nutritious food over school-year weekends and holidays, and the Campbell event is funding this for one student for more than a year.

Finding inspiration in service

2019 BBA/MBA candidate Fuqua is driven by a desire to see renewed hope and faith carried out in action. She volunteered with New Hanover County Teen Court all through high school, an experience that influenced her chosen career path.

“I want to pursue juvenile justice, among other things,” she says. “To change the way younger generations view legal systems, authorities, and general respect.”

Doane’s changemaking resolve was strengthened last summer working as a mentor for the Campbell Youth Theological Institute, which focused on social change. She worked with the Five N Two food pantry in Harnett County as well as the Metanoia Community in Charleston, South Carolina.

“It was amazing to see the projects they had set in place and had accomplished to better their community,” says Doane.

Before the spring Ignite retreat in Raleigh, North Carolina, Doane and Fuqua will accompany Professor Scott Kelly, Instructor of Business & Entrepreneurship, to the 19th Annual Social Enterprise Conference presented by students at the Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School. And then there’s program planning–including a beefed-up Campbell SOUP–for the University’s 12th annual Business Week event April 2-6, 2018. Fuqua and Doane were instrumental in shaping the Social Entrepreneurship theme of the weeklong event.

In Memoriam

The Sullivan Community mourns the loss of Clay Crouch

The Sullivan Foundation lost a long-time friend, a steadfast ally, and a (quite literal) member of its family. John Clayton Crouch, known to his friends as Clay, died on November 17, 2017, at his home on Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. He was 61 years old.

Crouch was an actual descendant of Algernon Sydney Sullivan and served as a member of the Foundation’s board of trustees for more than a decade, from April 2007 until his death. A deft businessman, he had a long and successful career, primarily in the global food manufacturing industry. He worked in international business development with McKee Foods Corporation for the last 16 years of his life.

In addition to his business acumen, Crouch was blessed with a wide array of gifts and talents. He was a designer, gardener, builder, landscaper, impressionist artist, genealogist, pianist, sailor, equestrian, party planner and host, and storyteller.

In true Sullivan spirit, Crouch was also a devoted servant who trained his sights on the children of Haiti for his outreach work. He had an active role in the Outreach Haiti Committee which works to educate and improve the lives of children in the St. John the Evangelist School in Petit Harpon Haiti. His involvement included development work in Chattanooga and construction efforts on site in Haiti.

Crouch’s other service passion was his love for the Sullivan Foundation, whose mission he supported tirelessly.

“Clay was nothing but positive energy,” says Foundation president Steve McDavid. “He was enthusiastically supportive of everything we did. Obviously, as an actual descendant of Algernon Sydney Sullivan, his relationship to this organization was a special, very personal one. He will be sorely missed, but the many positive contributions he made to the Foundation will live on long after his passing.”

Crouch’s family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, friends of Clay Crouch make donations to either the Foundation or to the Outreach Haiti Committee.

Jolly Good Fellows

The Sullivan Foundation’s Faculty Fellows program spreads service and social entrepreneurship skills to professors, then students

The fourth class of Sullivan’s Faculty Fellows is currently undertaking its fellowship year. While the program continues to evolve, the core mission has remained the same since its inception: provide support and structure to faculty members with a desire to incorporate service learning or social entrepreneurship into their teaching and/or research while at the same time allowing the flexibility needed for creative ideas to thrive. Just four years in, positive results abound. In this issue of Engage, we take a look at four fellows and discover how they used their fellowships and how their fellowships changed the way they teach and learn.

Casey Dexter

Casey Dexter is a developmental psychologist and works in the psychology department at Berry College in Georgia. In 2014, the provost of the college approached him about possibly being a member of the inaugural class of Sullivan Faculty Fellows. While he was intrigued, he wasn’t sure he was a natural fit for the program.

“My first introduction to social entrepreneurship was probably with a business model like Tom’s [shoes],” says Dexter. “This buy-one-give-one philosophy. And really that was about as much as I’d thought about it. Okay, that’s cool. That’s great. A business that gives back.”

Being an inquisitive person (not to mention a junior faculty member eager to please), however, Dexter felt giving it a try was worth his while. He began to look more extensively into what social entrepreneurship was all about, and, at the same time, what the Sullivan Foundation was all about.

“I was impressed to learn how long they’d been supporting civic engagement and community service,” says Dexter. “Not being from the Southeast originally, I wasn’t aware of the impact they’d had in the region for such a long time.”

Dexter began thinking about social entrepreneurship much more intentionally and started to search for any connections he could find between developmental psychology and social innovation.

During his fellowship, Dexter developed a course called “Social Innovation and the Psychology of Poverty,” designed to introduce students to the potential causes and consequences of poverty.

“We spend some time talking about psychology from a developmental standpoint, we spend some time talking about it socially,” says Dexter. “So, ‘what are the social situations and contexts that result or lead to poverty?’ We talk about it from a mental health standpoint. And then we dig into the nitty gritty of, ‘now we’ve gone over a bunch of ways to attack poverty, let’s come up with some really promising ideas of how you’re going to go about doing that.’”

Students developed proposals and learned the process hands-on. Their feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and Dexter’s own reflection on the experience reveals he ended up having a wonderful experience, too, despite his early misgivings.

“I think that the greatest impact that the Sullivan Foundation and the fellowship had on me is just a greater awareness of ways to connect with college students,” he says. “This crosses outside of just the teacher-student relationship. This becomes something enmeshed in their lives. It becomes something that they hold very close to their morals, their ideals, their values that provide their compass as a person. That’s a whole different way to connect with students.”

Christine Schott

Dr. Christine Schott teaches medieval literature and creative writing at Erskine College, and focuses her academic research on medieval manuscript culture in northern Europe. She is also deeply passionate about social justice and community engagement. Schott was interested in finding ways to connect her teaching and her passion, which weren’t an obvious fit at first glance, when she encountered the Sullivan Foundation.

Soon after, she became a Sullivan Faculty Fellow and began thinking about how to use the opportunity to make writing and community service a joint endeavor.

“I am very interested in how the ordinary things we do in our lives can benefit both us and our community,” says Schott. “I am interested in the use of creative writing to raise awareness of underprivileged or underrepresented populations.  Once they are on people’s radar in a positive way, it is easier to advocate for social justice as well as for business solutions that include and benefit them.”

Schott’s idea: use the talents of her writing students to share the stories of a population that’s too often forgotten. In this particular case, that led her and her students to a local retirement community where students engaged with, and interviewed, the residents to learn about their lives. The students then took their research and composed essays about the residents.

The final step in the process was to bring the essays back to share. The residents at the community benefitted from the friendships they forged with young students as well as the opportunity to collaborate on an artistic undertaking with them—a rare opportunity for too many seniors.

“One of the gentlemen interviewed had passed away suddenly the day before,” says Schott. “The activities coordinator was able to share the essay written about this man with his family, and so, unintentionally, this student had written a eulogy of sorts from his interview, which was given as a source of consolation to his loved ones.”

Though Schott’s fellowship has ended, she continues to teach the course she developed with the help of the Sullivan, and it has proven very popular among her students. For Schott, it’s opened up a whole new way of thinking about structuring her teaching.

“My courses are very classroom-based for the most part, but with this project, I can see the immediate impact of going off-campus and connecting with the local community,” she says. “There is definitely a market for contact between the residents and the college students, and potential for other endeavors that bring the two together.”

Dan Maynard

Dan Maynard is a Business Librarian at Campbell University. His project as a fellow was to lead the effort to bring Campbell into the fold as an official Sullivan school. With the blessing and support of the university’s president, J. Bradley Creed, Maynard convened a visioning committee that actively facilitated campus-wide engagement with Sullivan programs and partnerships with other Sullivan Schools.

Maynard credits Sullivan programming with giving him the tools he needed to help students get started. He recalls one Ignite workshop he observed led by facilitator Alan Webb and saw how impactful it was on the students.

“What I came back with was a very valuable way to get novices to create a rudimentary business plan,” says Maynard. “In about 45 minutes Alan had his “entrepreneurship sucks” students charting out a scope of work, resource allocations, and a timeline to implement their idea. It was quick, it was simple, it was intuitive, it was fun, and it was devastatingly effective.”

Rhonda Waddell

As a professor in Saint Leo University’s Department of Social Work, Dr. Rhonda Waddell has long been committed to incorporating service and social entrepreneurship training into her work. Prior to her involvement with the Sullivan Foundation, she helped establish two student-run clinics, staffed by health profession students, for the poor and homeless in Gainesville, Florida—one for primary care and the other for mental health services.

Waddell’s focus in her teaching and research is in health and social justice. These topics are natural ones to study in a social work classroom. They’re also areas that suggest engagement outside the classroom, which is part of what prompted Waddell to partner with Sullivan as a Faculty Fellow and create the course Social Justice and Social Entrepreneurship.

Waddell, a self-described animal lover, saw an opportunity to bring together people and animals in need to learn and create positive change at the same time with a multi-layered project that has received rave reviews from students.

The centerpiece of the course was a hands-on project that brought her undergraduate students to a local animal shelter to help them get adopted 10 hard-to-adopt animals. In the process, they learned about the financial burdens social ventures like animal shelters face and how to develop a business plan in the face of those burdens.

There was a second layer to the project as well. The students took it on in cooperation with a class of local high-risk middle and high school students. All the students learned and worked together, and the undergrads had the chance to act as role models to the younger students.

“They truly enjoyed working with the local high school students that too often get written off as the ‘bad’ kids,” says Waddell. “They learned these are great kids that may have had a bad hand dealt them and are learning to deal with challenges at a very young age. It was a great learning experience for all of us.”

Waddell has already begun discussions within her department about the possibility of taking the foundation she built with her course and turning it into a full certificate program. The Foundation’s validation, just as much as the funds provided, has helped her to carry on and expand her efforts as a changemaker.

“The Sullivan Foundation fellowship has helped to inspire and broaden my belief that all people are more than they think they are,” says Waddell. “Each and every one of us can and should stretch ourselves to do more to better our local and global communities. When we collaborate and care about each other we can only bring about positive difference in the lives of all.”

A natural changemaker

2018 Sullivan Award recipient Sarah Coffey is a leader and a champion for environmental issues

People at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida can tell you right off the bat why Sarah Coffey was an ideal candidate for a Sullivan Award.

“Oh, where to begin with Sarah?” says Wendy Anderson, professor and chair of Stetson’s Environmental Science and Studies Department. “My experience mentoring Sarah and watching her blossom is almost too sacred to be distilled to a few soundbites.

“She is a superstar student, of course. But, I would add this: Sarah has a heart of gold and a compassionate and humble spirit. She is genuinely thoughtful and caring to both those she loves and those whom she feels called to serve. Motivated by an overwhelming empathy for all people and creatures—the very living earth itself—Sarah wakes each day striving to make a difference in every moment of the day.”

When Coffey received her award in May, it was the culmination of a tremendous collegiate career in the classroom and the community. Both her academic and her service work center on environmental issues—Coffey has a passion for nature that’s difficult to understate.

“I guess what I want to do is just change people’s way of thinking [about the environment],” she says. “And I want to try to inspire people to be compassionate.”

A servant and an activist

As a student, Coffey was especially passionate about engaging children in gardening and in teaching the importance of growing their own food. She headed the campus garden club, Hatter Harvest, and volunteered with Boys & Girls Clubs.

Coffey also worked to halt the abuse of migrant labor in Florida’s agricultural industry, working with local members of the Farmworker Association of Florida, a group dedicated to equity and justice. Her devotion to the cause even prompted her to learn Spanish.

A remarkable resumé

Coffey, who has lived all over the U.S. before arriving in Florida, loves nature in all its forms

Coffey, who has lived all over the U.S. before arriving in Florida, loves nature in all its forms

Coffey became the university’s first Environmental Values Fellow as a first-year student, a 2016 Udall Scholar for her environmental initiatives and engagement with the Stetson community, and a 2017 Campus Compact Newman Civic Fellow by virtue of her social-justice activism. For good measure, she also tallied all straight A’s in the classroom as an environmental science and geography major.

The Udall scholarship provided the chance to explore fields related to health care and tribal public policy for American Indians and Alaska Natives. The Newman Civic Fellows Award, another national distinction, honored Coffey as a member of the “next generation of public problem solvers and civic leaders.”

Most recently, in April just before graduation, Coffey was part of 2018 Posters on the Hill in Washington, D.C. Each year, 60 top student research projects are selected from hundreds of applications, with students and their faculty mentors presenting research on Capitol Hill. Coffey’s research centered on the fire history of the San Juan Islands Washington.

Ready for the fight ahead

Part of Coffey’s admiration for nature comes from just how much of it she’s seen, having lived in New Mexico, Oregon, Maryland, Connecticut, Virginia, and Florida. An appreciation for nature in all its forms was built into her upbringing.

“I grew up with a personal relationship with the natural world and have always recognized this as an integral part of what it means to be human,” says Coffey. “It is distressing to see how many of us have lost this connection.”

Undaunted, Coffey intends to forge ahead. Her next stop is the Forestry and Environmental Conservation Department at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), where she will continue her education with an emphasis on community food forests. Not surprisingly, she has a paid assistantship waiting for her, and research is already planned for this summer.

This story was adapted from an article by Michael Candelaria of Stetson University. To read the original piece or to read more Stetson news, visit stetson.edu/today.

The buzz about social entrepreneurship

George Mason’s Honey Bee Initiative promotes sustainability, teaches future entrepreneurs

Students and faculty work at the apiary on the George Mason campus

George Mason University has a vision for itself. That vision? To be “the best university for the world.” It’s a bold goal—the kind of thinking that makes a great Sullivan school.

Sometimes, achieving big things means encountering small ones. Small creatures, in this case: bees. Since 2012, the GMU campus in Fairfax, Virginia, has been host to an apiary as part of its Honey Bee Initiative.

Since the ribbon cutting on that first apiary, the initiative has expanded to 50 apiaries across Northern Virginia. It has three primary goals: conducting applied research to combat colony collapse, providing hands-on teaching about sustainable beekeeping practices and social entrepreneurship, and establishing collaborative partnerships to improve the security and sustainability of the Northern Virginia ecosystem.

Going global

Germán Perilla works with students at the apiary

The decline of honey bee populations is an ecological crisis that affects not only the United States, however, but much of the world.

That led Germán Perilla, who is the director of the initiative, and Lisa Gring-Pemble, Director of Social Entrepreneurship and Global Impact at GMU’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, to think about taking their project global. Thus, a new course was born: Social Impact and Entrepreneurship. The immersive course takes students to South America for 10 days during spring break to get a granular look at local businesses that not only make a profit, but also help people and the environment.

Francis Fuller, a senior accounting major, took the course this spring along with 14 other students. Once she arrived, she found herself in a very unusual, and at least a little uncomfortable, position: she had never been around so many bees.

But there she was, in a beekeeper’s suit, in the Santander region of Colombia, hearing the insects buzzing around her head.

“To be around that many bees and not running from them was an experience,” says Fuller.

The Honey Bee Initiative has provided about 180 beehives to the Santander region through its social entrepreneurship outreach, making it a natural fit for the course.

An immersive ten days

In addition to touring some of those hives and speaking with the beekeepers—mostly women looking to create a sustainable livelihood that meshes with family and household obligations, according to Gring-Pemble—students visited businesses that produce honey, chocolate, brown sugar, and coffee, and explored their business models.

They also met with bankers and mayors, and administrators from the Universidad Industrial de Santander, all of whom are helping to finance and advance these initiatives.

“We’re reading about these abstract concepts about social entrepreneurship, using business to create a better world, and it all sounds really wonderful,” says Gring-Pemble. “But when [students] meet a business owner who says I’m willing to pay above what the market sets as a wage because it’s the right thing to do, and I’m making a profit and doing it in a way that’s sustainable, then they take notice.”

“They were able to see the whole picture of what social entrepreneurship is,” says Perilla, who also teaches beekeeping classes at Mason. “It’s one thing to create case studies. It’s another thing if you can go see the complexity of it.”

A personal experience

Germán Perilla

Seeing how beehives have been incorporated into the lives of locals was especially impactful for Fuller, who came to the United States from Cartagena, Colombia, in 2010.

“The trip allowed me to understand the importance of learning about problems and the communities before attempting to generate a solution, which is necessary to create sustainable change,” says Fuller. “That was a key concept throughout the class before going on the trip, and was also very much present through our time in Colombia.”

“Beyond that,” she says, “I have a much deeper appreciation for bees.”


This article was adapted from a piece by Damian Cristodero of George Mason University.