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 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.”
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 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.”
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.”