How Sarah Scott Discovered That Special Education Was Her Calling in Life

By Meg Sinervo

In 2015, Sarah Martin Scott, a special education teacher, co-founded the Explore! Community School, which engages students in meaningful, authentic learning experiences that help them master core academic content while developing the character and social skills to become Nashville’s innovative leaders of the future. At the time of this interview, Scott, who received the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award from Converse College in 2012, was working as Explore! Community School’s director of student supports but later left to pursue her Ph.D. in special education at Vanderbilt University. Here, she reflects on her path to a career in teaching exceptional children and explains why “relationships and community can be a salve for anything.”

What do you remember most about receiving the Sullivan Award? What do you think you did to receive the award?

Scott: Even before my senior year, I remember attending graduations for my upper classmates and thinking that, of all the awards offered, the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award was the one I would feel most proud to receive because it honored the characteristics of service and leadership that are the most important to me. Because I had so many amazing peers in my class who were doing great things, I was definitely surprised to hear my name and had to pause for a minute to be sure I had heard correctly. While I like that I’ll never really know what I did to receive it, I can imagine that it may have been due to my love of special education, specifically deaf education, my role as a community advisor who loved hard on my residents, or my commitment to inclusion, both in schools with little ones and among my peers.

Who nominated you for the Sullivan Award? What was your relationship like with this person or persons?

Scott: The nominating process was kept a bit of a mystery to us as recipients, but I believe it was a panel of students and our chaplain. If it was our chaplain, I was lucky to have been his work-study student and to have joined him and another student on a conference for Interfaith Youth Core in Washington, D.C., where we discussed how to encourage interfaith dialogue among other students on our campus. He and I still connect on social media occasionally, and when he brings students to my current city, Nashville, he makes sure to invite me and other alums who live here to go to dinner with those current students to catch up and connect.

Tell us about your career and what you do now. Why did you go into this field?

Scott: I am the director of student supports at a Title 1, project-based learning, restorative practices charter school here in Nashville: Explore Community School. It’s the same school that I helped get started in its very first year back in 2015 as their founding special education teacher. I have the privilege of coaching the special education teachers, paraprofessionals, interventionists and English Language Learning Specialists, while monitoring compliance for all of our students’ Individualized Education Plans, intervention plans and ELL service plans.

Even though I tried to resist it for a while growing up, I always sort of knew education would end up being my path. I didn’t love my experience as a student in grade school, and a part of me suspected that I would end up wanting to be sure that didn’t happen to other kids. I didn’t know this when I was accepted, but Converse College happened to have been the only school in the Southeast with deaf education as a specialization. After a year of trying to convince myself that I wanted to major in other things, my American Sign Language class, which I was taking to fulfill a language requirement, proved to me that special education was where I needed to be. After graduating and completing two years in Teach for America’s corps in Mississippi, my love of teaching and excitement for trying to solve the puzzle of each individual kid’s learning style was reaffirmed, and I’ve been working with students with exceptionalities since.

The Foundation promotes positive social change in its programming and overall message. What are some social issues that matter most to you today?

Scott: Racial equity overall and equity in school discipline practices. I’m also passionate about immigrant and refugee rights and inclusion and access for those with disabilities/exceptionalities.

What’s some advice you would give to current college students and young people in general?

Scott: Be curious and make a deliberate effort to get to know people who are different than you. Empathy is more important than most things, and it really is true that people will remember how you treated them and made them feel more than they remember what you do. Build into people, and it will always create positive results. Relationships and community can be a salve for anything.

Angela Lewis: Always Take the Smallest Apple in the Pile

By Meg Sinervo

Angela Lewis wasn’t expecting to hear her name called out during the announcement of the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award at Alice Lloyd College back in 1983. But her post-college dedication to helping others, both in her career and in her personal life, prove that she was the right choice for the award. Here, she reviews her life of service thus far, including her commitment to making sure that no child gets picked last for a team just because they haven’t yet learned how to play the game.

What do you remember most about receiving the Sullivan award?

Lewis: What I remember most about receiving the Sullivan Award was the description and community involvement the speaker was giving of the recipient when the presentation was being made. My friend was nudging me, saying, “That sounds like you!” But I had no idea that it was being presented to me. I believe I received the award due to my involvement in the community and for always taking the smallest apple in the pile, so to speak, so others could enjoy more of the fruit.

Tell us about your career and what you do now.

Angela Lewis

Lewis: My career has mostly been in teaching, and my certified field was Physical Education [P.E.]. I have taught and used my P. E. degree in two third-world countries: Tonga (1985) and Jamaica (1991-1996). I taught English as a second language and P. E. in Tonga. I introduced volleyball to our village school and community, and I helped coach their track and field teams.

In Jamaica, I taught kindergarten and basic school at SOS Children’s Village and taught and coached the older kids in mini-tennis, netball and soccer. Now, I teach high school special-needs students in a self-contained setting at a small-town school.

In addition to teaching life skills, job skills and community-based instruction, I also teach an Adapted P. E. class that my students love! I stopped coaching volleyball and soccer after about 10 years due to injuries. When I was in seventh grade, I knew that I wanted to go into physical education. I was always an athlete, but I had many friends who weren’t athletic at all. In P. E. class, I watched kids get chosen last because they didn’t already know how to play the game. I wanted to teach kids how to learn the skills needed to play a game, even if just in a recreational or family weekend-fun setting.

Are you involved with any community service or community outreach now?

Lewis: I am currently a Special Olympic committee member in our county as well as the Beta Club sponsor at our high school. We are involved in many community service projects, such as providing child care for parents of special needs kids during parent mentoring meetings; Relay for Life; Foster Child Christmas parties; Rivers Alive Community Clean-up; raising money for Cystic Fibrosis research; and Pennies for Patients.

The social issues that matter most to me are animal cruelty, homelessness and child abuse/neglect.

If pressed to give one piece of advice to younger people, what would you tell them? What have you learned as an adult that you wish you’d known earlier in life?

Lewis: Everyone has something to contribute in life. Find your passion and make a difference. As an adult, one thing I have learned—and wish I had known earlier in life—is to have confidence in myself.

Rhodes College Presents Two Students, Community Leader With Sullivan Awards

Sullivan Foundation partner school Rhodes College has conferred the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award and the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award on two students and one community member for the 2019-2020 school year.

Maggie Palopoli
Maggie Palopoli, a biology and molecular biology major and religious studies minor from Covington, La., has dedicated her time at Rhodes to service and love for members of the community around her.

As a board member for the Rhodes chapter of the Food Recovery Network, Palopoli has demonstrated her commitment to feeding the Memphis community while reducing food waste. As a former Kinney coordinator doing work with interfaith organizations in Memphis, she helped build relationships with—and expose students to—the work of many community partners in Memphis. As a Resident Assistant, she ensured the safety of other students while serving as a source of emotional support for her residents.

Related: Steffi Kong, recipient of the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award at Converse College, “excels at everything she does”

During her semester abroad, Palopoli focused on researching how the Italian healthcare system cares for the Muslim migrant population in Bologna and how the system could be improved to treat patients more ethically in populations of varying religious and cultural backgrounds.

Palopoli’s peers said her incredible compassion for everyone she meets is obvious to all who interact with her and that her kind nature shows in her commitment to the Rhodes community and to Memphis at large.

Saneela Tameez
Saneela Tameez, a psychology major and political science minor from Memphis, Tenn., has been a strong advocate for an inclusive campus focused on the needs of Rhodes students. Her work with the Muslim Student Association has helped bring awareness to issues the Muslim community faces.

A member of the Class Council, Tameez coordinated campus events including Pizza and Politics discussions, where she used her diplomatic skills to help facilitate scholarly conversations on campus. She is passionate about justice and fairness for those most vulnerable and truly cares about those around her.

Related: Davidson College bestows Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award on student with a heart for the homeless

Tameez has served as a Peer Assistant and has mentored new students and gone out of her way to ensure that all students feel like Rhodes is their home. Her peers describe her as a ray of light, a role model and an advocate in every sphere she is involved in on campus. They said Tameez tilted the scales of Rhodes culture to be more loving, considerate, and vocal to injustices.

Aubrey Howard
Aubrey Howard, the recipient of the Sullivan community award, has always made himself available to serve his alma mater. A mentor to many Rhodes students and alumni, the Memphis resident has always been willing to share career and networking advice, having had extensive experience in banking, commercial development, non-profit leadership and city government.

Active in the Rhodes Alumni network, Aubrey served as a member of the Alumni Executive Board and as the inaugural president of the Black Alumni Chapter, providing extraordinary leadership and guidance to the college in its goals to become more diverse and inclusive. He recently served as a member of the college’s 20-30-50 Planning Committee and has expanded the college’s network of support in both local and national circles.

Rhodes College President Hass said, “We are grateful for Aubrey Howard’s courage, resilience, energy and leadership. He has been a friend and mentor to generations of Rhodes students. His love for his alma mater is visible to all who know him.”

Related: University of Alabama Sullivan Award winner Malik Seals is on a quest to cure multiple sclerosis


Steffi Kong, Winner of the Sullivan Award at Converse College, “Excels at Everything She Does”

Shi Qing “Steffi” Kong, a senior at Sullivan Foundation partner school Converse College, is no stranger to deadly viruses. As a child in Singapore, she survived SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) at the age of 7 and the H1N1 virus (better known as the swine flu) when she was 10.

“Of course, I am worried about getting [COVID-19],” she told in early May. “But I joke with my friends: Third time is a charm. Either I become a victim or maybe I potentially become superhuman.”

Related: Honors student who fed thousands and rape survivor advocate earn Sullivan Awards at The Citadel

We’re betting the latter. But whatever happens with the coronavirus – and here’s hoping she doesn’t get it – Kong will likely become a big success. Now a standout student-athlete and the Converse tennis team’s No. 1 singles player since 2016, Kong is also the recipient of the Sullivan Foundation’s prestigious Mary Mildred Sullivan Award for 2020. With her degrees in biochemistry and psychology in hand, Kong plans to attend medical school and ultimately practice psychiatry in the U.S.

“She’s a gem,” Katie Mancebo, Kong’s tennis coach at Converse, told “I’ve never met someone who is harder-working or more disciplined. She just excels at everything she does. She’s probably every coach’s dream as a student-athlete.”

In April, Kong became the first student in Converse history to win the Murphy Osborne Scholar-Athlete Award, the highest academic award for a student-athlete in the Conference Carolinas.

“I am grateful to be given the opportunity to study in the United States and be able to have a different experience outside of continuing my education in Singapore,” Kong said. “It’s because of generous scholarships that I am able to attend Converse and accomplish great milestones.”

Related: Imani Belton, Gabriel Dias receive Sullivan Awards at Winthrop University

Sullivan Award winner Steffi Kong has presented her research at two national conferences and one international conference.

Kong has presented her research and publications at two national conferences and one international conference—a rare privilege for an undergraduate student. She made biophysics presentations at the Materials Research Society Fall Meeting & Exhibit in Boston in 2019 and the South Carolina IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence Science Symposium in Columbia, S.C. in 2020.

She also presented her psychology research at the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Annual Convention in Atlanta in 2019. Dr. Marie LePage, one of Kong’s psychology professors at Converse, collaborated with her on the presentation. “On our way driving home from the Atlanta conference, she just lit up like a Christmas tree,” LePage told Conference Carolinas in a profile on Kong. “That’s special for a student to get that jazzed about therapy. She’s just genuinely passionate about it. She wants to be the best she can be. I’ve taught thousands of students, and she ranks among my top five in terms of being an advanced scholar. But when it comes to passion, she absolutely ranks No. 1.”

Related: UA Sullivan Award winner Malik Seals on a quest to cure multiple sclerosis

After her freshman year at Converse, Kong returned home for the summer and volunteered at a mental health institute. After her sophomore year, she interned at the Kidney Foundation in Singapore. Her senior honors thesis was titled, “Stress, Depression and Anxiety: The College Student Dilemma,” with a strong focus on the differences between student-athletes and non-student-athletes.

“I know she is very interested in medicine,” LePage said in the Conference Carolinas interview. “Whether she goes into psychiatry or general medicine … she will be exceptional.”


Imani Belton, Gabriel Dias Receive Sullivan Awards at Winthrop University

Sullivan Foundation partner school Winthrop University recognized two graduating seniors—Imani Belton of Simpsonville, South Carolina (pictured above), and Gabriel Dias of Joinville, Brazil—for their service to the campus and community with prestigious Sullivan Awards on May 6.

Since Winthrop’s campus is closed due to the pandemic, the award winners were announced on Facebook.

“We are extremely proud to present these awards each year,” said Shelia Higgs Burkhalter, vice president for student affairs at Winthrop. “Even though we could not celebrate these recipients in person, we still wanted to acknowledge their hard work, service, commitment and leadership that positively impacted Winthrop. These students have left their mark on our university, and we are very grateful for each one’s contributions.”

photo of Imani Belton, winner of the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award at Winthrop University

Imani Belton

Imani Belton, an integrated marketing communication major, received the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award. Belton is the outgoing chair of Winthrop’s Council of Student Leaders (CSL). During her tenure, she regularly gave student body updates to Winthrop’s Board of Trustees. Belton has served as an Academic Success Center tutor, Diversity Peer Educator, Peer Mentor and as a member of the Leadership Institute for First-Timers (LIFT) conference planning committee. She previously served as the CSL’s public relations committee co-chair. Belton also received the division’s Diversity and Student Engagement Award.

Belton is a first-generation college student, and Winthrop was recently recognized by the Center for First-generation Student Success for its efforts to create a positive, productive experience for students like her. “Throughout my time at Winthrop, I’ve been able to connect with first-generation faculty, staff and students, which has made my collegiate experience 10 times better because of bonds we’ve created,” Belton said at the time. “Being a first-generation student is a point of pride for me and other Winthrop students who have benefited from learning on a campus that provides outreach and services for students like us.”

photo of Gabriel Dias, winner of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at Winthrop University

Gabriel Dias, winner of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, is captain of the men’s tennis team and a noted scholar-athlete.

Business administration major Gabriel Dias captured the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award. A member and two-time captain of the men’s tennis team, Dias displayed leadership on and off the court. He represented Winthrop and the Big South Conference on the student advisory group for the NCAA. The highly selective group consisted of just 32 student-athletes from across the country. Dias also served as president of Winthrop’s Student-Athlete Advisory Council and as a member of the CSL. He stood out in the classroom, earning a spot on the Big South Conference All-Academic Team during his junior year.

This article has been edited from the original story appearing on the Winthrop University website.

Alice Lloyd College Recognizes Two Outstanding Servant Leaders With Sullivan Awards

Sullivan Foundation partner school Alice Lloyd College recently recognized Kennedi Alexis Damron and John Mark Driskill with prestigious Sullivan Awards for outstanding servant leadership.

Damron, a former ALC cheerleader and tennis player, received the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award. She teaches at Emmalena Elementary School in Knott County, Kentucky, and has previously won the Alice Lloyd College Scholar Athlete Award and the Alice Lloyd College Leadership Award. Her volunteer activities run the gamut from collecting and distributing food baskets for needy families to delivering gifts and organizing a Veterans Day program at the East Kentucky Veterans Center. Damron has volunteered with the KY River Animal Shelter and Operation Christmas Child and helped distribute Christmas items to more than 500 needy area children in 2014.

Kennedi Alexis Damron

As part of her Read Across America service, Damron partnered with the Kentucky Educational Association to reach out to community schools and celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday with classroom reading and activities. She also worked with the Appalachian Regional Hospital during Heart Month, providing free screenings and raising heart health awareness through informational lunches with physician speakers. For Emmalena Elementary Kindness Week in November 2016, she planned activities to promote kindness at her school, including creating a kindness wall and a giving tree.

An ALC statement describes Damron as “a highly organized young lady” with “strong community ties that make her a great teacher.”

“From the abovementioned activities, one can easily recognize that Kennedi is a person of outstanding character, is passionate about making a difference in the lives of others, and impacts her community in a positive way on many levels,” according to ALC. “Her Christian walk and service to others is a high priority in her life and is evident to all who know her. She was a wonderful student ambassador for Alice Lloyd College and a great role model for others.  Kennedi is a very intelligent person and demonstrates a strong work ethic.”

John Mark Driskill

Driskill, recipient of this year’s Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, is “an exceptional young man who will certainly leave his mark on the world,” the school stated. A member of the ALC Cross Country team and Acoustic Ensemble,  Driskill won the Alice Lloyd College Scholar-Athlete Award and the Campus Spirit Award in 2017 along with many other accolades.

He was hired by ALC as a supervisor over student activities for the goal of improving retention, the school said. He has been active with the Campus Ministries Leadership Team, served as a small-group Bible study leader, interned with the Rural Church Development Alliance and served as a Bethel Mennonite camp counselor.

“John possesses strong leadership traits and high energy while leading,” the school said. “He strives to glorify God in all he does … John enjoys sharing his faith and giving back to his community. He has a strong positive outlook on life.”