Dani Biggs: Tapping into the Arts to Tell People’s Stories at NYC’s Public Theater

By Meagan Harkins

Seated in a pew at her childhood Baptist church in Central, N.J., Danielle Biggs gazed in wonder at the procession of the dance ministry, admiring the performers dressed in the flowing white skirts iconic to liturgical dance. “I was just mesmerized and entranced in that moment,” recalled Biggs, who was two years old at the time. She went home and spent that afternoon twirling and dancing around the house. Her parents soon signed her up for studio dance classes and for the church’s dance ministry, and Biggs has danced ever since.

Biggs, a 2015 recipient of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at Elon University  and currently the membership manager at New York City’s famed Public Theater, hails from a family steeped in music and the arts. Her father, Terence, plays the guitar and jammed in a band as a young adult. Her mother, Sharon, was a singer. Her brother performed in his high school and college marching band. Even her uncle is a dancer. “Creativity allows us to bond,” Biggs said. “All of us having that connecting point is really cool and magical. Our relationship is even further strengthened because of that lived and shared experience.”

At age three, Biggs enrolled in Jo-Ann’s Dance Studio in South Plainfield, N.J. From then on, she spent her evenings there or with her church’s dance ministry. In high school, she joined her school’s dance team and began competitive dance, spending weekends at competitions with All Star Dance Academy (now Artists in Motion). “It was a lot,” she said. “I had been balancing extracurriculars and school since kindergarten.”

Looking back on her dance studio days, Biggs now recognizes that, despite her love for dance, the environment had the potential to be toxic to a young person’s body image. She sometimes heard traumatizing comments about herself as far back as the age of eight. But she has learned to celebrate the fact that each and every dancer looks different—and stands out—even in identical costumes. “I always found it weird that the tights and jazz shoes didn’t match my skin color,” Biggs said. “But you should go that extra mile to stand out and be yourself. If that means you look different in a costume, you look exactly how you’re supposed to look.”

Dani Biggs decided to pursue her passion for dancing as a major at Elon University.

A New Stage
As a high school student, Biggs saw her “big sister” in dance ministry having the time of her life attending Elon University. Biggs travelled to North Carolina to tour the campus and fell in love with Elon’s botanical garden. “I could talk to a wall about how great Elon is,” noted Biggs, who now serves on Elon’s alumni board.

As a freshman at Elon, Biggs chose to major in marketing. After focusing on her studies—but desperately missing the life of a dancer—during the fall semester, she signed up for an improvisation dance class as an elective in the spring. Just weeks into class, the professor, who became a mentor, signed Biggs up to audition for Elon’s dance program.

“I went through the normal arc of trying to pick a career that made sense, becoming a dance performance and choreography and arts administration major,” she said. “Pick a major you’re passionate about, otherwise life is like hell. I think you really viscerally feel, when you are not in the right program, that something is wrong. When something is wrong, it feels like your guard is always up or like you’re not fully able to relax or settle into yourself or into a routine. That was a pro tip—to focus on something that brings me joy.”

From a lifetime of dance, Biggs has developed the confidence to make mistakes. Once, when she found herself in the middle of the floor without remembering the next step, an instructor yelled at her to keep going. “Even if you are messing up or there’s too much on your brain, you have to keep going,” she said.

“Based on [individual] personality and dancer, we each navigated towards whatever felt most freeing to us,” Biggs said. For her, this was West African dance. “It allows me to feel a direct line of connection to my ancestors, and it’s also just so fun. It’s reverent, but it’s also cardio. It’s all about community. Every single person in a West African dance production—from the drummers to the dancers to the audience—is seen as integral to the success of the show.”

Biggs fell in love with the joyful and loving culture of Ghana.

Discovering Ghana
In January of her junior year at Elon, Biggs traveled with fourteen students on an arts-focused study-abroad trip to Ghana. Her professor partnered the trip with his local dance company, Africa Alive, creating a group of about 40 performers who toured the country by bus. They also donated laptops, toys and school supplies to local villages along the way and orchestrated pep rallies at the schools.

To this day, she remains in contact with her classmates from the trip but often finds herself wondering about the young girls she met in Ghana. “I don’t know where those girls are now, but there is still such a strong sense of love for them and that moment we created together,” she said.

“During the trip, many people came up and expressed their love for us,” she added. “The outpouring of love from people we had literally just met was overwhelming. It interests me that love is something everyone longs for, but, at least here in the states, it’s something that makes people a bit uncomfortable, especially when it comes to loving out loud.”

This further inspired Biggs to live out loud, acknowledging the shared humanity of the people she meets daily. She explored this approach to life as an intern at Elon’s Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life. “As a Christian, it expanded my view of the importance of multi- and interfaith, intersecting with different religions and people who do not observe any religion and the beauty in that,” she said.

Biggs was also president of Delta Chi Xi Honorary Dance Fraternity, Inc., which she brought to her campus and built from the ground up. The organization’s goal, she said, is “to recognize the academic caliber of being a dancer or artistic student. There’s still scholarship and research that’s a part of that.”

During her time at Elon, Biggs was chosen for the Isabella Cannon Leadership Fellows program, a four-year, cohorted program designed to help students build leadership competencies through a variety of programs and experiences. She also served the community through Elon Volunteers, regularly visiting the local Boys and Girls Club, sometimes teaching dance, and participating in an urban education trip during which she taught at a preschool in California.

Biggs enjoys a laugh with coworkers at the Public Theater in New York.

Learning to Pivot
Upon graduating from Elon, Biggs received the Sullivan Award for her leadership and service to others. “It was incredible to join the company of so many great leaders,” she said. “It was magical to be recognized in this way, for my commitment and passion for community service, helping others and inspiring community, making community into a verb.”

For her senior thesis concert, she was put in charge of fundraising and administrative leadership. “I thought that experience was so fun,” she said. “I enjoyed being on that side of an audition or decision-making table instead of on the floor rehearsing for hours and hours.”

With that experience in mind, Biggs moved home to New Jersey after graduating. She worked for the director of individual giving at the Tony Award-winning McCarter Theatre Center. After four years there, she secured a job as membership manager with the acclaimed Public Theater in New York City. Founded by the legendary producer Joseph Papp, the Public Theater is home to “A Chorus Line,” created “Hamilton” before it hit Broadway, and has offered free productions in Central Park for more than half a century. “Our mission is to make theater of, by and for all people, and, in these days, to really make theater accessible to all people,” Biggs said.

As the Public Theater’s membership manager, Biggs oversees thousands of households of entry-level donors, ensuring they are having fun and being taken care of. “I love learning people’s stories, so it’s a really neat job,” she said.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Public Theater pivoted to digital programming. Biggs said they collaborated with two playwrights on a production written for and filmed entirely on Zoom. Entitled “The Line,” the innovative play was about medical professionals dealing with the pandemic.

One of the Public Theater’s donors, a doctor, watched the play after a hard day’s work at the hospital and told Biggs that “he had never felt more seen.” “It was gripping,” Biggs added. “We were tapping into how the arts can help tell people’s stories.”

The Public Theater has now reopened for live shows but requires proof of vaccination and masks to attend shows, offering arts lovers a deeply missed experience after more than a year of pandemic isolation. “We exist because we help provide respite for ourselves and for all kinds of people and to revive the soul of the American people as a whole,” Biggs said.

Throughout these collegiate and professional transitions, Biggs has stayed on her feet, continuing to dance. She remembers the fall semester of her freshman year—a rare period in her life without dance—and how she felt constricted and unable to express herself. “It was terrible,” she said. “I had never felt like that, and I don’t ever want to feel like that again.”

Biggs has now added dance fitness as a zumba instructor to her resume. “It’s a wonderful entry point to dance,” she said. “Zumba has taught me that every body can dance or every body is a dancer.”

Biggs was a session coach at the Sullivan Foundation’s recent Fall 2021 Ignite Retreat.

Joining Conversations
During the pandemic quarantine, Biggs also learned about the Supermajority Education Fund, a leadership development training program designed for female leaders interested in learning about civic engagement. She applied to become a majority leader, looking to gain new skills in community organizing, policy implementation and leading positive change.

Biggs had always been interested in public administration and community organizing but had never felt qualified to get involved. “It has helped me see that I am the right person to serve in those roles or to learn more about that,” she said. As a member of the inaugural cohort, Biggs shared Zoom rooms with social impact leaders like Alicia Garza of the Black Lives Matter movement; LaTosha Brown, who works with voting rights groups; and actress and social advocate Sophia Bush.

Weekly conversations about social justice and election preparations allowed Biggs to see the impact women have in the world, both as the majority of voters and as individual leaders. “We have more power than we think,” she said.

Biggs also led virtual sessions with middle- and high school students. “I felt so energized from that experience,” she said. “I was able to lead sessions about election readiness, voter preparation, and then trying to enthuse young people who are not of voting age to encourage those who are of age to participate in the system.” She finds it important to begin these conversations early on; just as it’s harder to learn a musical instrument later in life, she said, it’s more difficult to create an attitude of engaged citizenship in older Americans. “[The kids] are full of joy and excitement about life,” she said. “The world through their eyes is so good, and that’s important to hold onto.”

Continuing in the spirit of education and mentorship, Biggs has coached workshops at the Sullivan Foundation’s Fall 2021 Ignite Retreat and led post-session discussion groups in the foundation’s Spring 2021 Ignite Masterclass series. Following the Ignite Retreat in early October, she posted on Instagram that she felt “forever grateful to the Sullivan Foundation for always being a strong anchor of hope in my life. This weekend was the start of something wonderful, and I’m so glad I was able to be a part of it, along with some phenomenal fellow coaches and some brilliant student leaders.”

As she continues to navigate the country’s evolving political and social climate, she recalls a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Faith is taking the next step even when you don’t see the staircase.”

“My dad is a reverend, so I really did grow up in the church,” she said. “The idea of faith in a religious sense, but also out of a religious context—like the faith to move on and the audacity to keep going—stems from countless lived experiences. It’s all centered on the faith to keep going. I think that drives me every day.” 


Toy Story: How Amanda Arseneau Jumped Off the Corporate Ladder and Found True Success With My Little Pony

By Meagan Harkins

In her first job as an intern at the national headquarters of Cracker Barrel, Amanda Cothron Arseneau, a 1999 recipient of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at Cumberland University, served the company wherever she was needed—even to the point of dressing as a jellybean at a company picnic. “That’s how I got my foot in the door, and I wound up in a junior analyst position,” Arseneau recalled.

But in the coming decade, the ambitious Arseneau, who is now happily self-employed in her hometown of Gallatin, Tenn., nearly worked herself to death. She has since learned to take it easy on herself, she said, and to do her part to make life a little easier for others through volunteerism, a calling she has felt since she was a kid.

Ironically, her new life began with a return to her old life and her girlhood love for collectible My Little Pony toys.

Related: The wonderful, wonderful life of Anne Matthews

That new life, of course, didn’t come easily. By the time Arseneau had earned her masters degree from Cumberland University in 2001, she was already a year into her position as a restaurant analyst. From there, her career in corporate finance and information technology took her to the Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated, Sumner Regional Health Systems and Dollar General. Her work included sales unit analysis, database administration and planograming, a technique for determining how and where specific retail products should be placed on shelves or displays to increase sales.

Sumner Regional, headquartered in Gallatin, was her favorite job. “It felt like coming home,” Arseneau recalled. She’d previously spent her childhood there as a volunteer, directing people at the desk, helping with purchase orders and visiting patients. She later volunteered as a marketing intern for Sumner Regional during college.

Artist and entrepreneur Amanda Arseneau with her parents, Maxine and Ottis Cothron

But the corporate life just wasn’t for her. “I climbed pretty high, but I was also becoming disenfranchised with corporate entities,” Arseneau said. “I don’t like people being treated unfairly. Any kind of injustice just brings out this fire in me, and it was being brought out a lot.”

Eventually, Arseneau began experimenting with other jobs to decide what kind of environment she preferred. Today she runs a successful eBay store—Amanda’s Treasure Dungeon—geared toward collectors and creates and sells commissioned artwork.

After years away from the corporate office, she remains grateful for what she learned from those experiences, including teamwork, balancing opinions and personalities, effectively presenting ideas, decision making, budgeting time, and honoring deadlines. “I’ve carried that over into what I do now, but I have a lot more freedom,” Arseneau said. “That opened my eyes to things not having to be so rigid sometimes. There can be more of a workflow, appreciation for people’s schedules, a little bit more creativity.”

“You may think you have to put your creativity on the back burner to fit into a certain mold, but you can let it out,” she added. “It has value. Even if you stay in that corporate environment, let it out a little bit. I look back at some opportunities that I missed because I thought I had to stay in that perfect mold, that I couldn’t let the creativity come out in that. There were some places where I probably missed some opportunities—if I had only felt enough confidence to do that.”

Related: Danielle Biggs: “Lean into your truest self and lead out loud!”

Creating Balance
Confidence didn’t always come easily to Arseneau as a kid. She grew up with generalized anxiety disorder, which she describes as being nervous about something at every moment of every day. “There’s no rest,” she said. “There’s only so long your body can do that for.” One day, in fact, she found herself in the emergency room, worried that she was having a heart attack. All of that anxiety had taken a physical toll on her body. “I didn’t have enough adrenaline to live on,” she said. “I used it all up in this constant fight-or-flight kind of state.”

Arseneau had entered the corporate world immediately after college because it seemed like the logical next step. “I had no work-life balance at that point—it was all work. I found myself bringing it home at night. With that anxiety condition, I would not let it go. It was, frankly, just making me sick.”

From this experience, Arseneau learned that too much work can be crippling—it can’t be allowed to consume your life. People who work long hours, she noted, “are missing what’s really important. I mean, you shouldn’t live to work. You should work to live.”

After becoming self-employed and learning to manage her anxiety with medications and lifestyle changes, Arseneau gained a new perspective on life. “I’m clearer now, so I find myself wanting to help people still in that environment, navigating what they’re going through,” she said. “Find and demand a work-life balance. You will have to make some sacrifices, but don’t let a career take over your world.”

My Little Ponies
So how did Arseneau end up launching her online business and striking that balance? She grew up playing with My Little Ponies—the original G1 ponies were her favorites. Arseneau rediscovered her beloved toys in 2007. Dusting off her old collection, she began purchasing new pieces to create finished sets. Since she often had to order the toys in bulk to add just one piece to her collection, she began reselling the extra items. Over time, she got better at cleaning up, restoring and reselling them for a profit. Now Arseneau goes to yard sales to find vintage My Little Ponies and refurbishes them to sell to collectors, primarily overseas, on eBay. “It was kind of an accident, the way I fell into it,” she said.

“I believe salvaging and restoring old items is important in remembering our culture and families,” Arseneau said. “They keep us connected to the past, and I believe that’s important in preparing and succeeding in the future.”

In addition to playing with My Little Ponies, Arseneau spent her childhood drawing, especially when she volunteered at the hospital. She began selling her artwork in high school and has circled back to that passion today. Requests for commissioned artwork have led to her own Facebook page and Etsy store. After being given a photo from the customer, she recreates it with pen and black ink, creating stunning pieces that preserve clients’ favorite places and memories for a lifetime.

Related: The church and the classroom are holy places for Dr. Ray Penn

The Right College Atmosphere
Her time at Cumberland University gave her the opportunity to blossom as an artist even while preparing for a corporate career. The university felt like a natural fit, as she wanted to live at home, save money and stay near her parents. She was a business major with minors in accounting and computer information systems, but the artistic teen paid her way through school with choral and theater scholarships.

Arseneau had been involved in musical theater since the second grade, first performing in a snowman suit as Happy the Snowman. “When I sing or do theater, I don’t want to do it in front of one or two people,” she said, noting she couldn’t even look at her mother when practicing for a play as a child. “But in front of crowds, I have no fear. It was just getting to fully immerse in that fictional character and bring it to life.”

She was extremely active on campus. She performed with the Phoenix Players, University Singers and Cumberland Chorale and served the Fine Arts Alliance as secretary and treasurer. She was a member of Alpha Omicron Pi Women’s Fraternity, Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Fraternity, Alpha Lambda Delta National Honor Society, Alpha Chi National Honor Society, Alpha Psi Omega Theater Honor Society, Sigma Beta Delta National Business Honor Society, and Phi Beta Lambda Business Fraternity, which she served as president.

Amanda celebrates earning her bachelor’s degree with her mother, Maxine Cothron, in 1999.

“Cumberland changed me a lot,” Arseneau said. “I was the really shy, smart, artsy girl in high school. Then, when I hit college, everything changed. I was suddenly sought after and recognized for the skills I had. It was the kind of atmosphere that I needed to grow into who I was going to be.”

One day in the spring of her senior year, she sat doing her homework at the gazebo outside the administration building when an administrator walked up and told her she was being awarded the 1999 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award. “It took me a minute to find out why they chose me,” she said. “I was very humbled by it; I think I am to this day.”

Arseneau loved Cumberland University so much that she stayed there to work on her MBA, this time on full scholarship with paid room and board. She also worked fulltime at Cracker Barrel, ran the box office, used her lunch hour to attend choir practice, participated in every musical, and took her classes at night.

In other words, she was never a stranger to hard work. But her later transition from corporate America to being her own boss felt both immediately freeing and awkward to Arseneau. The self-discipline it required was daunting at first, but she has learned to take advantage of and enjoy her weekends and vacations. Being self-employed has also given herself the flexibility to volunteer at local hospitals, animal shelters and horseback riding programs. In the summers, she volunteers at her church, painting sets for Vacation Bible School. “It’s about using your talents where you can,” she said.

Arseneau finds herself most impacted at a personal level by continuing to volunteer at the hospital, encountering countless staff members, patients and guests every day. “I learned to recognize people in need, and, over the years, I have developed a strong drive to obtain justice for those not able or willing to find it on their own,” she said.

Amanda and her husband, Matt Arseneau

This servant-mindset came from watching her mom, Maxine Cothron, respond to the needs of her coworkers and friends. “I watched her be the person that everybody came to,” Arseneau said. “She is just this person that you drift to. I saw that, and I saw that there was no hesitation [on her part] to help somebody, ever. The joy that she would give to people—I wanted to be that, to do that, to help people. There’s maybe a little bit of selfishness because, when you help someone, you feel good.”

In addition to running Amanda’s Treasure Dungeon and her artwork, Arseneau, who has the full support of her husband, Matt, also spends her days writing speeches for individuals, preparing resumes, and helping with budgets. “There’s no unhappiness with my job because I’m utilizing my skills to do what I love,” she said. “There’s not a day that goes by that I’m bored or want to do something different. Almost no one finds that perfect work position where you love to go to work every day, but I found that.”

Arseneau spoke about the expectation to continue climbing the corporate ladder, seeking raises and loftier titles. “I want people to know that sometimes it’s not about that. It’s not about climbing the ladder. That may not be the place for you. You can still utilize those skills in other ways that make you much happier and help a lot more people doing it.”


Elizabeth Rogg: Doing the Most Good

By Meagan Harkins

Elizabeth Jensen Rogg, a 2015 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award recipient, chose Shenandoah University (SU) after touring the Winchester, Va. school and feeling a keen sense of belonging on the small campus tucked away in the Shenandoah Valley. And she discovered her life’s calling as a social worker after several service-based trips sponsored by SU.

The first trip took place after Hurricane Sandy struck New York in 2012. “When they said we’d be cleaning up after a hurricane, I said it was not for me,” recalled Rogg, who now lives in Mineral, Va. with her family. Still, she ended up going on the humanitarian mission due to her relationship with the campus pastor and students involved in the ministry. She and her fellow volunteers spent their spring break cleaning up debris and sleeping away the nights on the floor of a church in Staten Island.

“But I think the one trip that really helped shape me and realize that I belonged in social work was when I went, during the summer after my freshman year, to live in Africa for about two and a half months,” she said.

Rogg found herself working in the Dandora slums of Nairobi, Kenya, teaching three-year-olds how to speak English at the Baptist Children Center. She had first felt drawn to Africa after Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, founder and director of the Nyaka and Kutamba AIDS Orphans Schools in Uganda, spoke to her freshman class at Shenandoah. Kaguri, who grew up in a small Ugandan village, began his speech at SU by breaking a pencil into three parts, illustrating how a single pencil had to be divided and shared between himself, his brother and his sister when they were school children. “I don’t think anyone left that room without feeling something,” Rogg said.

After a quick Google search, Rogg found Buckner International, a Texas-based mission agency. She joined this group of strangers from Texas and trundled off to live in Kenya for a summer. “I went to Africa with the idea that I was going to change the world, but that’s not how it goes,” she said. Faced with the poverty of a developing country, she felt overwhelmed as she realized how much she took for granted as an American, but her desire to be a social worker caught fire. “As a social worker, you have the ability to make a positive impact in someone’s life, and changing that individual’s world is just as important,” she said.

Related: The church and the classroom are holy places for Dr. Ray Penn

The Servanthood Tradition
Returning to Shenandoah, Rogg continued to make a positive impact by creating a student-led group called Friends of Nyaka. The group partnered with Kaguri’s nonprofit, Nyaka Global, to organize fundraisers throughout the year to benefit partner schools in Uganda.

For their main annual fundraiser, called the Barefoot Mile, students, staff and community members received financial pledges for each mile they ran barefoot, honoring the great distances that many Ugandan children walk on bare feet to and from school each morning and afternoon.

In addition to running Friends of Nyaka, Rogg was a First Year Seminar Mentor for two years at SU, assisting faculty members by serving as an advisor to first-year students as they transitioned into university life. She also served two years as president of SU’s chapter of the Council for Exceptional Children, a program partnering individuals with local children with disabilities.

“I wasn’t expecting that Shenandoah would have such a positive impact on my life, even in tiny things,” Rogg said. Meanwhile, others were taking notice of the impact Rogg herself was having on SU. Her service-above-self lifestyle was acknowledged by multiple professors and a fellow classmate, a mere acquaintance, when they each nominated Rogg for the Sullivan Award. That fellow student happened to be sitting next to Rogg at SU’s graduation ceremony and gave her a hug when she returned from stage.

Rogg was particularly surprised by the recognition since switching majors had allowed her to graduate a year early—hence, most folks in her graduating class did not know her. “I remember being shocked that my name was called,” she said. “When they were reading my biography, I turned around to my friend and jokingly said, ‘This person does a lot of the same things I do.’”

Related: Police psychologist Kimberly Miller works through law enforcement to help the underserved

SU President Tracy Fitzsimmons and Dr. Justin Allen presented the award to Rogg. “They are two individuals who inspired me in my academic career, and it was such an honor to be presented this prestigious award by the two of them,” Rogg added.

Beyond academics, Shenandoah’s United Methodist Church Foundation influenced Rogg’s trajectory. “It was where my faith took priority,” she said. “Then my faith played a huge part in me becoming a social worker in the servanthood [tradition].”

Living the Faith
Rogg went on to earn her M.S. in social work from the University of Louisville in 2017. She then worked for Salvation Army’s Pathway of Hope for two years in St. Mary’s, Ga. The initiative was launched in 2011 with the main goal of breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty through strength-based case management, community collaboration and data-driven support.

As a Pathway of Hope program manager, Rogg helped with project planning, including monthly job skill training and family nights, and was a case manager for 30 families. Working to equip so many families for success was daunting, but it taught Rogg to appreciate the little victories of bringing light into someone’s life. It also taught her to humbly trust that any effects that her work had on the parents would positively impact their children as well.

Rogg recalled one family case she dealt with during her two-year stint with the Salvation Army. Referred by the Department of Family Services, the parents’ two children had been recently put in foster care. At the time, Rogg thought, “The reality was that there was no way they’d be getting their children back.”

But from this experience, Rogg learned to never say never. The parents attended every job skills class, individual therapy session, family therapy session and caseworker meeting. They took advantage of every other resource at their disposal. And, about two months after Rogg had resigned from the Salvation Army, the couple called to thank her—they had regained custody of their daughters.

“Those girls would have probably remained in foster care if it wasn’t for our program and its ability to help build up that mom and dad by providing them with the skills they needed to be successful parents and to be there for their daughters,” Rogg said. “It was really special.”

When she first arrived at Shenandoah, Rogg was told, “Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the souls you can, at all the times you can.” This mantra resurfaced during her tenure at the Salvation Army, whose motto is “Doing the Most Good.”

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

“It’s just opened my eyes that you can do good anywhere,” Rogg said. “You don’t necessarily have to be in a professional setting to do good.” To continue providing both help and hope for others after leaving the Salvation Army, she has worked at a food pantry, volunteered at her church, helped quarantined community members during Covid-19, and performed her own important daily chores as a parent.

She has been married to Zack Rogg for six years, and they have relocated three times as a military family. After losing their first son, Maddox, she is now a full-time mom to her two-year-old daughter, Madden. “I feel like I lost so many experiences with my son, and I didn’t want to miss them with her, so that was the real driving factor for me staying home with her and not taking for granted the little things,” Rogg said. “The beautiful creature she is helped me heal in ways I’ve never expected.”

To celebrate Maddox’s birthday each year, the Rogg family has made sure to do something that emphasizes kindness and spreads love. The first year, a stranger donated money to the Sunshine School in Gambia, Africa, paying to erect a gate built in honor of Maddox and a plaque with his name. This past year, they collected books from friends and family to send to the Sunshine School. “To see these children’s faces means the world and honors Maddox in such a special way,” Rogg said.

In her personal life, Rogg continues her mission as a social worker daily—clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and giving shelter to those in need. Talking to her, one is reminded of a famous quote by St. Teresa of Ávila: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”

Three Servant Leaders Receive Sullivan Awards from Shenandoah University

Shenandoah University, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, has awarded this year’s three Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards to two students—Damaris-Lydia Odebode and Kaitlyn Shand—and to administrator Holli Phillips.

Each year, the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards are presented at 70 colleges and universities across the American South. First awarded in 1890, the award goes to individuals who are committed to creating positive change.

Here’s more information about each recipient of the 2021 Sullivan Awards:

Holli Phillips

Holli Phillips
Phillips, who is currently enrolled in the doctoral program in administrative leadership at Shenandoah, has been awarded the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for a faculty or staff member. The award recognizes “people of noble character” who “invest themselves in the well-being of others.”

When Shenandoah University opened its James R. Wilkins, Jr. Athletics & Events Center as a mass-vaccination site, Phillips stepped forward as a leader who could organize a system and lead a team. In the midst of a challenging global pandemic and with a community in dire need of a vaccine, Phillips created a system that exemplified Shenandoah as a place of compassion and care. Those who were nervous about receiving the vaccine were welcomed with transportation, greeters and kind faces. The patients coming for a vaccine were in and out so quickly that there was little time for fear or impatience to set in. Regional news media outlets and the PBS NewsHour touted the “gold standard” of care that Phillips and her team created.

Related: Sullivan Award recipient Kylie Stottlemyer supports survivors of rape and domestic violence

“Holli spent her two-week Christmas vacation volunteering with Valley Health to administer vaccines to the healthcare community as vaccine distribution began,” said one of the individuals who nominated Phillips for the Sullivan Award. “She quickly gained the confidence of those in the healthcare system responsible for vaccine distribution.”

As Shenandoah University did its best to ensure that all populations were afforded the opportunity to receive the vaccine, Phillips became the point person for those who did not have the access to make an appointment online. The phrase, “When you get to the clinic, just see Holli,” must have been uttered thousands of times, according to one nominator.

“She has remained humble throughout the entire process and continues to provide the credit to her staff and to all the other volunteers she has worked with, but, without her guidance and leadership, the clinic may not be as successful [for] our community,” another nominator said.

Damaris-Lydia Odebode

Damaris-Lydia Odebode
A recently graduated senior, Damaris-Lydia Odebode exemplifies the Shenandoah University spirit of one who ennobles and beautifies living. She is described as compassionate, responsible and a model of integrity.

Odebode was nominated by two faculty members and two staff members, which demonstrates her engagement inside and outside of the classroom during her time at Shenandoah. One nominator said she is “guided by the courage of her convictions, speaks with a wisdom beyond her years, and has a keen sense of integrity that guides her day-to-day actions.”

“Mentoring is a recurring theme with her work as a peer mentor for first-year music education students and the Scholars’ Latino Initiative,” one nominator said. “Her leadership skills go hand-in-hand with her service work with the Conservatory’s Student Council Diversity Committee, the Black Student Union, Omicron Delta Kappa and the Collegiate Virginia Music Educators’ Association.”

According to one nominator, Odebode organized a music-education session for children of Shenandoah employees on a Saturday morning simply because a staff member gave her the idea. “She is constantly investing in the well-being of others,” according to the nominator, and “makes the lives of those around her better simply by leading with compassion and integrity. I cannot think of a better candidate for this award.”

Related: Sullivan Award recipient Sandra Reid was a “tremendous force for good” at Elon University

Kaitlyn Shand (right)

Kaitlyn Shand
Kaitlyn Shand exemplifies the Shenandoah University spirit by seeking to create communities of compassion, responsibility, advocacy and justice. One nominator said that Shand “is one of the most positive, caring individuals that I have ever had in class or as an academic advisee. She ‘walks the walk’ and truly lives her faith when it comes to advocating for other people.”

Shand’s nominators included faculty and staff. She has been active across campus with leadership roles in Spiritual Life and the Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter and as a First-Year Seminar mentor, a tutor, an SU ambassador and more. Additionally, she helped build a partnership between Sodexo and local charities to pack unused food to provide for those in need as a part of the Campus Food Network. As a result of her work at Shenandoah, Shand completed a 2019 summer internship in Washington, D.C., with the Campus Food Network.

“To be honest, I’m not sure when she has had time to sleep while being involved in so many things and maintaining a high academic standard,” one nominator said of Shand. Another nominator added, “From the very beginning, I was impressed with Kaitlyn’s authentic energy and enthusiasm for connecting with others and inviting people into communities of belonging. She draws the circle wide so that everyone has a place at the table.”

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

Sullivan Award Recipient Kylie Stottlemyer Supports Survivors of Rape and Domestic Violence

Kylie Stottlemyer is the first-ever criminal justice major to graduate with an honors degree from Sullivan Foundation partner school Mary Baldwin University (MBU). She was also the student recipient of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for 2021, along with Professor of Philosophy Roderic Owen, who received the faculty award.

Stottlemyer exemplifies the Sullivan qualities of noble character and unselfish service,” according to a statement on MBU’s website. “She is regarded as an outstanding leader whose daily life exhibits love and helpfulness to others and whose service is marked by sincerity, humility and integrity, and personification of service above self. Her engagement across her four years at Mary Baldwin spans student leadership positions including SGA treasurer and president of the criminal justice and social work clubs, and many hours of volunteer service with the Rape Aggression Defense Group, Samaritan’s Purse International and CASA. Her academic achievement is also exemplary as a Baldwin Honors Scholar graduating in criminal justice and a Capstone Festival award winner.”

Related: Sullivan Award recipient Dr. Marsha Walton leaves meaningful legacy at Rhodes College

Stottlemyer’s senior thesis won a top honors award at the Capstone Festival this year. It presented the results of her partnership with a small Shenandoah Valley police department to investigate the complex relationship between law enforcement, the community and victims of crime. Though her thesis is complete, she continues to work with the department to create better training opportunities for their officers.

Kylie Stottlemyer

Stottlemyer also serves as a court and community collaboration coordinator for survivors of domestic and sexual violence at Response, Inc. She served in leadership roles for nine student organizations on campus, including the SGA Executive Committee, and received the President’s Award in 2020 for excellence in leadership.

She is also the first person in her family to earn a college degree. “Being able to continue my education after high school was a goal that I set out to achieve, and I can proudly say that I have now accomplished it with the guidance of my faith, my family and my friends,” she said.

After graduation, Stottlemyer will begin a master’s program in homeland security and emergency preparedness at Virginia Commonwealth University.

MBU President Pamela Fox and Sullivan Award recipient Roderic Owen

Roderic Owen, the faculty recipient of the Sullivan Award, is “beloved and universally respected by the entire Mary Baldwin family in commitment and connections spanning 41 years,” according to the MBU website.

Related: How Sullivan Award recipient Issy Rushton guided her University of South Carolina campus through the pandemic.

“In my more than 40 years in higher education, I can sincerely affirm that I have not been privileged to work with a more exemplary colleague and citizen,” said MBU President Pamela R. Fox, who bestows the Sullivan Awards each year.

“Owen has left an integral mark on his colleagues, thousands of students, and the founding and developing of signature Mary Baldwin programs in education, the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership, the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted, the adult degree program, the Spencer Center, and the Coalition for Racial and Social Justice. He is a champion of the MBU mission and of the centrality of the liberal arts, international studies, diversity and inclusion, and much more.”

Sullivan Award Recipient Sandra Reid Was a ‘Tremendous Force for Good’ at Elon University

Sandra Reid, a lecturer in human service studies, recently received the 2021 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award from Sullivan Foundation partner school Elon University for her decades of selfless public service.

Vice President for Student Life Jon Dooley presented the annual award at a recent ceremony, calling Reid “a tremendous force for good at the university and in the community.”

“Sandra demonstrates the highest standards of character, integrity and leadership in service to others and the community,” Dooley said.

Related: Lucy Burch, a “unicorn” at Huntingdon College, honored with Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award is presented each year by more than 70 colleges and universities in the American South. At Elon University, the award is presented to two students and one faculty or staff member who demonstrate the highest standards of character, integrity and service to others and to their community.

This year’s student recipients were Yannick Twumasi, a political science and international relations double-major, and Jubitza Figueroa, a political science major.

Sandra Reid

A 1985 Elon graduate in human service studies, Reid spent nearly two decades working in juvenile justice in Alamance County, Guilford County and the Triad area before joining Elon’s faculty full time in 2006. She earned her master’s in counseling from N.C. Central University in 1999.

Among many roles with state, regional and local civic boards—often focused on services that impact youth and the community’s most vulnerable—Reid has served in various capacities on the Governor’s Crime Commission since 2007, as chair of the Alamance County Community Services Agency Board of Directors, and as chair of the Positive Attitude Youth Center Board of Directors.

Reid is currently serving as a member of the Alamance County Community Coalition of Remembrance, working with the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., to memorialize the lynchings that occurred in Alamance County at the EJI national museum and monument.

“As an alumna of Elon University and the human service studies program, Sandra Reid demonstrates on a daily basis what it means to work to improve her community and the lives of those who are often excluded from it,” said Bud Warner, associate professor and chair of the Human Service Studies Department. “Sandra is an outstanding role model for our HSS students. She inspires them to tackle the difficult and challenging issues facing us today.”

“I’ve always felt like [serving others] is the purpose of my life, and I am honored to be recognized for something that’s such a part of who I am,” Reid said.

Related: How Sullivan Award recipient Issy Rushton guided her University of South Carolina campus through the pandemic.

Reid found her calling within juvenile justice while completing a high school senior seminar course in Greensboro for students interested in social work. She realized early on how broader societal and community issues can lead to trauma that results in criminal behavior, and that those root causes need to be addressed, along with individual rehabilitation and support.

While serving on the Governor’s Crime Commission, she was part of the task force that worked toward raising the age of majority within the state’s criminal system from 16 to 18 years old. North Carolina was the last U.S. state to raise that age when it did so in December. Along with research-based interventions, she hopes that change will decrease the “revolving door” of youth and adults in the criminal system.

“It’s hard for a system to be a family for children,” Reid said, “so if I can influence students who are interested in the field now and train them to work with communities and systems, they will be able to provide the support for individuals and families that is needed so much in this profession.”

At Elon, Reid teaches numerous courses, including juvenile justice, criminal justice, working with groups and communities, and the African-American family. Her civic roles and responsibilities continue to inform her teaching.

“You can’t separate a community in tatters from individual trauma,” Reid said. “That’s the core of what we teach in the Human Service Studies Department, from the micro piece of families and individuals, to services at the advocacy and community level, to the macro level of policies and systems—and we are able to teach students interested in working at all of those levels.”

She is involved with the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education’s DEEP program, providing opportunities to learn about, reflect on and apply concepts of social justice with a foundation in racial equity. In 2018, students selected Reid as the recipient of the Wilhelmina Boyd Community Service Award, presented at the Phillips-Perry Black Excellence Awards.

Angela Lewellyn Jones, associate dean of Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, and associate professor of social justice, noted the many community organizations, boards, commissions and nonprofits to which Reid lends her time and talent.

“She has been a reliable and inspiring presence in these organizations, just as she has been for her students here at Elon,” Lewellyn Jones said. “We couldn’t be happier that she has been selected as the recipient of this year’s Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award.”

Reid recently served on Elon’s History and Memory committee, examining untold aspects of the university’s past, including anti-Black racism and unheralded achievements by Black students, and guiding steps to ensure the committee acts in culturally appropriate ways going forward.

“I see the work I do in the community, in the classroom and on Elon’s committees as interconnected,” Reid said. “If we can get people to understand root causes, our solutions will make better sense.”

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

Sullivan Award Recipient Dr. Marsha Walton Leaves Meaningful Legacy at Rhodes College

In her 41 years at Sullivan Foundation partner school Rhodes College, retiring Professor of Psychology Dr. Marsha Walton has successfully merged outstanding scholarly achievements with a dedication to mentoring students, helping them to open their eyes to opportunities and navigate new experiences. That’s why she was honored as the non-student recipient of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at Rhodes College’s commence ceremony earlier this month.

Walton has authored or co-authored more than 90 conference presentations and 30 research publications and book chapters. As part of her research, she has collected stories from thousands of children describing their own experiences with peer conflict and with social relationships. This work has contributed to an understanding of conflict resolution, friendship and moral development.

Related: King University honors two students and minister with Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards

Walton has mentored more than 75 undergraduate researchers whose work has resulted in publications and national and international conference presentations. More than 40 of her research students have gone on to earn doctorates in psychology, and many more have formed successful careers in education, public health, medicine and allied health professions.

One of those mentees was Dr. Sherry Turner, vice president of strategic initiatives at Rhodes. “Rhodes is committed to cultivating a lifelong passion for learning among its students,” Turner said. “Marsha Walton’s investment in me as a student has certainly yielded life-long impact. Working with her was the high point of my experience at Rhodes. She was an outstanding professor and mentor.”

“When I was a student, she saw my potential, held me to high standards, invited me to join her research team, and encouraged me to pursue graduate studies as a developmental psychologist,” Turner added. “She has continued to inspire me at every phase of my professional career. When I was a graduate student, she invited me to return to Rhodes to teach and complete my dissertation research. When I returned to Memphis three years ago, she invited me to visit the campus. At the time, I could not have imagined that I would become the vice president of strategic initiatives. Rhodes has been fortunate to have had a member of its faculty whose very presence has enhanced the lives of its students in extraordinary ways. I am delighted to salute Marsha’s career at my alma mater.”

A collaboration between Walton and Alice Davidson, a 2002 graduate of Rhodes College, resulted in the book, “Conflict Narratives in Middle Childhood: The Social, Emotional, and Moral Significance of Story-Sharing,” which was published in 2017. The book examines nearly 3,000 narratives from children about their own experiences with interpersonal conflict. Davidson, now an associate professor and chair of psychology at Sullivan Foundation partner school Rollins College, emulates Walton’s approach to mentoring by including students in her community-based research.

Related: Trio of servant leaders receive Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards at Queens University of Charlotte

Dr. Walton works with a baby in her early years at Rhodes College.

Walton, who joined the Rhodes faculty in 1979, has encouraged students to think broadly about the intersections between psychology and other disciplines. She has taught interdisciplinary courses with faculty in biology, economics, English, history, mathematics, gender and sexuality studies, philosophy, religious studies, sociology, educational studies, and theatre. Walton also was an early adopter of service-learning pedagogies, having her students work in settings off campus.

In 1999, when Rhodes formed a partnership with the Memphis Non-Violence Education and Advocacy Network to increase community involvement in creating peaceable schools, Walton participated. She currently collaborates with Dr. Kiren Khan, an assistant professor of psychology, to study narratives of preschoolers, and with Dr. Elizabeth Thomas, a professor of psychology at Rhodes, on the Community Narrative Research Project, in which participants of Bonner Scholars program at Rhodes shared stories about their experiences serving in Memphis communities as part of their scholarship.

For the breadth and depth of her work, Walton won the Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Activity in 2018. When the Council on Undergraduate Research named her a recipient of its Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research in the Social Sciences Award in 2020, Walton commented, “It is amazing to be given an award for doing something this intrinsically rewarding.”

In retirement, Walton plans to spend more time in nature, canoeing, biking, and hiking, but she will continue her research and writing, seeking to learn more about how children and adults make their lives meaningful as they share stories about their everyday experiences.

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Rhodes College website.

King University Honors Two Students and Minister With Sullivan Awards

King University, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, recently presented the 2021 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards to students Kiayana Roberts and Megan Hagy and community member the Rev. Dr. W. A. Johnson for their high standards of character, integrity and service and commitment to creating positive change in their communities.

Crestview, Florida native Kiayana Roberts graduated from King University in December 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. While there, she served as the president of the Student Government Association, chair of the Student Life Activities Committee at King (SLACK) and resident assistant. She also volunteered in numerous clubs, ministries and campus organizations. She is currently pursuing a degree in Marriage and Family Therapy while working as an area coordinator as part of King’s residence life staff. She plans a career in the juvenile rehabilitation sector of criminal justice.

“Kiayana is an amazing student with strong faith and character, representative of the values and standards held by King University,” said Chase Arndt, director of student life at King University. “She lives out her faith in Christ by her devotion and care to those around her, and she is always looking for new ways she can serve or reach out to those in need.”

Related: How Sullivan Award recipient Issy Rushton guided her University of South Carolina campus through the pandemic.

“Among the various ways that Kiayana was engaged in campus life during her time at King, the thing that consistently stood out was her strong sense of ethics and her care and concern about those with whom she was working,” said Dr. Matt Peltier, King’s dean of academic services and university librarian. “It was apparent that she approached things through a lens of grace, love and compassion, respecting the integrity and inherent worth of others, while also being committed to maintaining her own integrity.”

Megan Hagy is a 2021 graduate of King with a BS in Biology. Throughout her four years as a full-time student, she worked as a kennel technician, initiated numerous informal study groups to help classmates with difficult courses, and organized Bible studies involving both students and professors. A native of Bristol, Virginia, she plans to pursue veterinary school and eventually own her own veterinary practice.

“Megan is humble, giving and encouraging in a way that puts others first and never seeks the spotlight for herself,” said Dr. Laura Ong, an associate professor of biology. “She is one of the most selfless students I have ever taught or spent time with and is beloved by students and faculty for her cheerful manner, her unflagging efforts in her studies, and her habit of lifting others’ spirits with her quiet encouragement. She has spent many hours working to support herself, her family and her career goals. Her dedication to those who depend on her has left precious little time for herself, which makes her daily outreach to others all the more remarkable.”

“In her time at King, Megan has built lasting relationships with both her peers and faculty,” said Assistant Professor of Biology Josh Rudd. “Her kindness, cheer and compassion speak louder than words, filling the lives of those around her with love. It is King’s honor to bestow this award on her as a standard-bearer of its ideals.”

The Rev. Dr. W.A. Johnson grew up in the Hampton, Virginia area and is a graduate of Virginia Union University in Richmond, the Virginia Seminary in Lynchburg, and the Chicago Theological Seminary at the University of Chicago. For six decades, he has served as a spiritual leader to Bristol, the surrounding region and the Commonwealth. He is a former trustee of Virginia Union University and has served on a number of boards of directors and advisory boards.

Related: Lucy Burch, a “unicorn” at Huntingdon College, honored with Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award

Johnson organized the Bristol Head Start Center in 1966, led several capital projects at Lee Street Baptist Church, served as the moderator of the Schaeffer Memorial Baptist Association of Southwest Virginia, led the Baptists of Virginia to build a new state office in Richmond, and has helped plant churches in Central Asia, Africa, Haiti, Cuba, and South Africa. He served as an open-door devotional speaker for WCYB for 30 years. He currently serves on the boards of WHCB, WLFG, Bristol Faith in Action, Mike Jenkins Ministries Inc., and Living Faith Ministries Inc., and he presents the “Living Word” television program on WLFG every Sunday morning.

“Dr. Johnson has borne witness to the transforming love and grace of Jesus Christ, both in his pastoral ministry at Lee Street Baptist Church and in his significant community leadership through times of crisis and growth,” said Martin Dotterweich, Ph.D., professor of history and director of King University’s Institute for Faith and Culture. “When he arrived in Bristol in 1961, he assumed it would be a short stop on his way to a larger ministry in a larger city, but he felt God’s call to stay here to be a beacon for the African-American community and to work for the building of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the ‘beloved community.’ He has lived a life of selflessness and care for others, and it is our honor to recognize his lifetime of service.”

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

Trio of Servant Leaders Receive Sullivan Awards at Queens University of Charlotte

Known for her strong sense of integrity, conviction and passion, Queens University of Charlotte senior Sydney Stepney has excelled both inside and outside of the classroom. Her excellent character and commitment to humanitarian service has also earned her the 2021 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at Queens.

Since 1948, Queens has selected individuals to receive the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for excellence of character and humanitarian service. Two awards are typically presented to recognize and honor a member of the graduating class, as well as a person or couple affiliated with the university who represent the highest ideals of both the university and society.

Judy and Paul Leonard were this year’s community recipients.

Related: How Sullivan Award recipient Issy Rushton guided her University of South Carolina campus through the pandemic

During her time at Queens, Stepney served as a resident assistant and then as head resident assistant during her junior and senior years. Her exemplary service and leadership in those roles led her to receive the 2020 Resident Assistant of the Year Award. Additionally, she tutored peers through the Roadmap Scholar program and served as a mentor through the L.E.A.D. (Learn, Empower, Act, Diversify) mentoring program and Transition to University (T2U) program.

An active member of the Black Student Union, she became one of the inaugural Racial Justice Fellows for the Charlotte Racial Justice Consortium. This group was charged with examining the city’s history with race and equality and leading healing projects in the community.

She was also a Charlotte AHEC Public Health Scholar, where she worked to improve the diversity of health professions and to support health system transformations across the state.

Stepney has received a full scholarship to Ohio State University’s Masters in Healthcare Administration program, where she will continue pursuing her goal to provide leadership that bridges the gap between health literacy and health equity.

this photo shows Judy and Paul Leonard receiving the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at Queens University of Charlotte

Judy and Paul Leonard accept the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at Queens University of Charlotte.

The desire to serve and improve the lives of others has been a driving force for Judy and Paul Leonard throughout their lives and exemplifies the Queens motto, “Not to be Served, But to Serve.”

Judy Moore Leonard, a 1967 graduate of Queens, is a nurse by training, and in 1979 she made the first hospice call in Charlotte for Hospice and Palliative Care of the Charlotte Region. In her 15 years of hospice service, she helped build the foundation for the largest hospice in the Carolinas. Judy has been one of Queens’ most loyal alumni leaders, serving on the Queens Board of Trustees, as president of the Alumni Association Board, and on the Advisory Board of the Presbyterian School of Nursing and Blair College of Health.

Related: Past Sullivan Award recipient Cagney Coomer helps prepare girls of color for careers in science

Paul Leonard’s professional career began in ministry, where he led a non-traditional church that focused on community action and service. While there, Paul helped to organize Charlotte Fair Housing and served as its first president. He later left the traditional ministry to work with a city housing program and was later recruited by the John Crosland Company, where he served for many years in various executive leadership positions. After retiring, he used his extensive experience in the housing industry as a resource for service with Habitat for Humanity International, where he served as chairman of the board.

Judy has also been committed to creating fair housing opportunities for all citizens. She is a past board chair of Habitat Charlotte, and she also organized the first Women Build project for Our Towns Habitat. Together with Paul, she participated in eight Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Projects and in building efforts on five continents. In 2011, the Leonards were honored with the Habitat Charlotte’s Founders Award for their extraordinary service and commitment to the mission of Habitat.

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Queens University of Charlotte website.

How Sullivan Award Recipient Issy Rushton Guided Her Campus Through the Pandemic

Isobel “Issy” Rushton was installed as president of the student body at the University of South Carolina, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was shutting down the world.

The native of the Gold Coast in Australia was half a world away when she went to work helping her fellow students and the university navigate the pandemic and focus on returning to campus. For her leadership during this challenging period, Rushton was one of two members of the Class of 2021 to receive the university’s highest undergraduate honor, the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, which is given each year for outstanding achievements, campus leadership, exemplary character and service to the community.

Ardash Shidhaye was the other Sullivan Award recipient from UofSC this year. Read about him here.

Rushton participated in the university’s Future Planning Groups as well as emergency management team meetings. She helped create and lead a citywide social responsibility campaign called #IPledgeColumbia that encouraged city residents, including those on and around the University of South Carolina campus, to wear a mask and follow other COVID-19 protocols to keep themselves and others safe.

Rushton also was named the 2021 UofSC Outstanding Senior and received the President’s Award as well as being named the 2020 Greek Woman of the Year for her work leading the Alpha Chi Omega sorority.

“I believe that my most noteworthy contribution to Carolina isn’t my list of achievements, rather the stories of personal connection and shared triumph,” Rushton said. “I have built an unwavering community here at Carolina and, through my every engagement, have worked to inspire the future students that will walk the Horseshoe long after I’m gone.”

A double major in experimental psychology and criminal justice, Rushton serves as a University Ambassador and Presidential Ambassador and as a student representative on the Presidential Commission on University History.

“It is a deeply emotional honor to reflect on my time at Carolina,” Rushton says. “This institution has built me into a woman that values knowledge, citizenship and unflinching determination.”

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the University of South Carolina website.