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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.

Winthrop University Honored as a Top School for First-Generation College Students

Sullivan Foundation partner Winthrop University has been honored for its efforts to create positive and productive experiences for first-generation college students.

The Center for First-generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, and The Suder Foundation, have designated Winthrop University as one of its 2021-22 First-gen Forward Institutions.

The First-gen Forward designation recognizes institutions of higher education that have demonstrated a commitment to improving experiences and advancing outcomes of first-generation students. Selected institutions receive professional development, community-building experiences and a first look at the center’s research and resources.

Related: Winthrop University’s Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner overcame racism, poverty to earn graduate fellowship from National Science Foundation

“As a first-generation college graduate, I am keenly aware of the challenges associated with navigating higher education: the use of unfamiliar terminology, the assumption that one knows how to ‘do’ college, or that one even knows what questions to ask,” said Shelia Burkhalter, Winthrop’s vice president for student affairs.

“Student Affairs is excited to work with TRiO Student Support Services, the McNair Scholars program and the rest of the Winthrop community to think more strategically about serving first-gen students at Winthrop,” she continued. “While we look forward to advancing the success of first-generation students, the student success literature confirms that efforts to advance first-generation students will ultimately benefit all students on campus.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 33 percent of higher education students today are the first in their family to attend college. Winthrop mirrors the national statistic, Burkhalter said, noting that approximately one-third of Winthrop students identify as first-generation, when defined as a student whose parent(s)/legal guardian(s) have not completed a bachelor’s degree.

That population includes Imani Belton, an integrated marketing communication major and chair of the Council of Student Leaders (CSL), Winthrop’s student government body.

Related: Winthrop University to collaborate on Miracle Park for people of all abilities

“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,” she said. “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.”

Winthrop has already made significant strides in first-generation student support and outcomes:

The TRiO Student Support Services Program has supported first-generation students for more than 15 years, providing students with a variety of services such as personalized academic counseling, tutoring, individualized needs assessment and more.

Since 2009, the McNair Scholars program has prepared first-generation, low-income and underrepresented undergraduates to be successful in Ph.D. programs through research, extensive support and transformational opportunities throughout the junior and senior years.

Within the Division of Student Affairs, the Office of the Vice President as well as the Diversity and Student Engagement office facilitate events to celebrate first-generation students and graduates (for example, among the faculty and staff) and to raise awareness regarding issues impacting first-generation student success.

“Through the application process, it was evident that Winthrop University is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students but is prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies for significant scaling and important advances in the future,” said Sarah E. Whitley, senior director of the Center for First-generation Student Success.

To learn more about first-generation efforts at Winthrop, contact Burkhalter at burkhalters@winthrop.edu or Kinyata Adams Brown at brownka@winthrop.edu.

Related: Winthrop University breaks record for freshman applications

About NASPA and the Center for First-gen Student Success
NASPA—Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education—is the leading association for the advancement, health and sustainability of the student affairs profession. Its work provides high-quality professional development, advocacy and research for 15,000 members in all 50 states, 25 countries and eight U.S. territories. The Center for First-generation Student Success is the premier source of evidence-based practices, professional development and knowledge creation for the higher education community to advance the success of first-generation students. Visit www.naspa.org and www.firstgen.naspa.org for more information.

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

Winthrop University Freshman Leads Charity Supporting Veterans

A few summers ago, Christian Hall, currently a freshman at Sullivan Foundation partner school Winthrop University, attended a church youth group’s community service event. One of the activities involved playing Bingo with the veterans at the William Jennings Bryan Dorn Veterans Administration Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina.

“I realized that veterans are oftentimes only remembered on Veterans Day, Memorial Day and Christmas,” said Hall, a business administration major from Columbia. “They are veterans, however, the other 362 days of the year as well.

Related: How tuition-free college works at Sullivan Foundation partner schools Berea College and Alice Lloyd College

“If you ask people my age, they seem unaware of what a veteran is and the sacrifices they have made,” he continued. “It’s important we consider that many of these veterans suffer from issues related to how they were perceived when they returned home. It’s imperative to understand what a veteran is and how they both interact with and influence their environment.”

this photo shows the youthfulness of the founder of Christian's Hope for Vets

Christian Hall founded Christian’s Hope for Vets when he was just 16 years old.

Feeling inspired, Hall created his charity, Christian’s Hope for Vets, with his mother, Dr. Alison Post, and stepfather, Master Sgt. John Post. John Post currently serves in the National Guard and is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the peace-keeping force in Kosovo.

The charity works to bring awareness of veterans’ causes to Hall’s generation and raises funds to assist several veteran-based charitable organizations providing for veterans’ daily needs. In fact, since its creation two years ago, Christian’s Hope for Vets has raised more than $10,000 for its cause. 

“Further, our mission is to increase events and visits for veterans at various locations during times of the year other than veterans-based holidays,” Hall said. 

As part of his charity work, Hall has: 

  • Participated in parades throughout the state;
  • Spoken at American Legion post meetings and the state meeting of the American Legion Women’s Auxiliary, the latter of which chose him for the President’s Special Project donation;
  • Raised funds to replace worn American flags and fund PTSD research;
  • Coordinated the first Wreaths Across America ceremony at his church; and
  • Spoken at his high school’s Veterans Day Ceremony, among many other activities. 

Hall participated in JROTC in high school, earning a rank as a cadet and second lieutenant. 

For more information on Christian’s Hope for Vets, visit the website. For more general information, contact Nicole Chisari, communications coordinator, at 803-323-2236 or chisarin@winthrop.edu.

This story was edited slightly from the original article appearing on the Winthrop University website.

Winthrop University to Collaborate on Miracle Park for People of All Abilities

Sullivan Foundation partner school Winthrop University has signed an historic agreement that will allow the construction of a 15-acre park for people of all ages and abilities to play and work, the university recently announced. Called Miracle Park, it’s a public/private project between the university, the city of Rock Hill, S.C., and the York County Disabilities Foundation. The city and Winthrop are providing the land through a low-cost, long-term lease for the park location on Cherry Road.

Developers said Miracle Park promises to bring the joys of recreation to those who might need it most—South Carolinians with mobility challenges, developmental disabilities, and other special needs. The park, when completely built out, will include two Miracle fields, two multi-purpose fields, a special needs playground, and a café that will employ people with disabilities.

Dan Mahony, Wofford’s president, said the nearby park will allow Winthrop students in several academic disciplines to participate in internship and service opportunities. “Diversity and inclusion efforts are important to the Winthrop community, and naturally we are eager to contribute to Rock Hill’s reputation as a city that values recreational opportunities for everyone, particularly those residents who have special needs,” Mahony said.

He noted that in addition to the Richard W. Riley College of Education’s degree programs and Department of Physical Education, Sport and Human Performance offerings, another program to be impacted is Winthrop Think College, which offers postsecondary education opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities. Also, Winthrop’s Macfeat Laboratory School, which serves preschool and kindergarten students, would gain a fully inclusive park within a mile of its location on the Winthrop campus.

this photo shows the various signees of an agreement to build Miracle Park

Officials from Winthrop University, the City of Rock Hill, S.C. and the York County Disabilities Foundation signed an agreement recently to create Miracle Park in Rock Hill.

Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys said Miracle Park won’t have traditional baseball fields and playgrounds. Instead, it will have specially designed fields with inclusive elements that “give every child the chance to play baseball and other sports” and support team membership in the international Miracle League for disabled children. The teams will play on rubberized turf that can accommodate wheelchairs and walkers and provides a safe surface for people with visual impairments and other disabilities.

“For children often unable to join traditional teams, the opportunity to build camaraderie and confidence alongside friends with similar experiences through healthy competition and exercise can be truly life-changing and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build lasting memories and life-skills,” Gettys said, adding that the city will manage the day-to-day operation of the park through its Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department.

In addition to the Miracle fields, the special needs playground will feature amenities far beyond what is typically required by full ADA compliance. Proposed plans include robust accommodation for those in wheelchairs or people with mobility challenges as well as textures and sensory elements for children with developmental disabilities. A planned on-site café will provide unique and capacity-building opportunities for disabled employees within an environment that will be empowering and build a sense of community.

This story was adapted slightly from the original article appearing on the Winthrop University website.

The Right Track

Growing up in Jefferson City, Tennessee, Joey Jennings dealt with racism and poverty every day throughout his youth. Now the recent Winthrop University graduate, winner of the school’s prestigious 2019 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, is on his way to earning his Ph.D., thanks to a highly coveted Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation.

Jennings was one of only three sociology undergraduates nationwide to receive the fellowship, which provides him with a full ride at the University of Maryland-College Park. But the scholar-athlete, who holds two Winthrop records as a track star, had to clear major hurdles to get to where he is today.

“Why Do They Hate Me?”
Playing on a Little League football team introduced Jennings to the harsh reality of racism when he was only nine years old. He didn’t see himself as different from any of his teammates—until someone referred to him with a racial slur.

“I vividly remember asking my dad, ‘Why do they hate me?’” he said. “He stood up for me and put a stop to the name calling, but it did not ease my heart. I was able to grasp that the reason I was treated differently was related to my skin tone. As a result, I was not proud of my color for a long time.”

Joey Jennings set new records for the indoor and outdoor pole vault at Winthrop University and graduated with a 4.0 GPA.

Jennings “fully experienced rock bottom” in Jefferson City. In addition to the heavy racial tension, his family struggled with poverty, sometimes not having enough food on the table or going days without electricity. “Then, everything got more difficult when I witnessed my mother being taken to jail numerous times because of her losing battles with cocaine addiction,” he said. “We struggled, it was tough, but my family is strong. My dad raised my siblings and I to fight, and that made me the man I am today.”

“It is because I have witnessed numerous types of adversity and injustice, or a lack of proper justice, firsthand that I want to further my academic career in sociology and engage in social research with the hopes that I can uncover social injustice,” he added.

Jennings wanted to understand the questions from his past and felt that the sociology program’s criminology concentration would help him do just that; specifically, it would sate his appetite for research. He also signed on to compete in track and field at the Division I level.

Studying Police Brutality
For one of his research projects, Jennings examined police brutality over a 23-year period through a public opinion survey. The survey asked participants for responses to racial relations after the Rodney King incident (1991) and the Freddie Gray incident (2015). He then reached out to Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts after reading Pitts’ series on what people can do to help and studied online newspaper comments referencing the Baltimore riots.

“The analysis showed that, during the 23-year period between the observed riots, public opinions on prejudice were related to systematic discrimination practices that led to marginalization of inner-city minority communities,” Jennings explained. “In turn, these communities find in riots an opportunity to bring public awareness to their constant criminalization, invisibility in the criminal justice system and marginalization.”

While simultaneously taking 14 credit hours, practicing track 20 hours a week and competing almost every weekend, he presented his research at the Southern Sociological Society Conference and Winthrop’s Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors. He also spent the summer of 2018 at the NSF research program at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, researching Charlotte’s homicide hotspots with a group and presenting at UNC-C’s symposium and the Midwestern Criminal Justice Association.

The Best at Both
Along the way, Jennings set new records for Winthrop’s indoor and outdoor pole vault and graduated with a 4.0 GPA.  “It takes a lot of dedication to my crafts,” Jennings said. “School and track are equally important to me, but early on, I learned that to be great in both I had to treat them as separate entities. When I was at class, what happened at the track, good or bad, had to be out of my mind and vice versa. I spent hours studying for class and for track. I wanted to be the best in both, so I gave all I had each day to everything. That is how I was raised.”

After graduating from Winthrop this past May, Jennings now looks to the future. “I know I want to make a difference; I want to enact change,” he said. “The Ph.D. is a start for me to work as an activist, to create change, and to shine an academic light on social issues that have been dark for some time now. I love learning, and I want to use my strengths to help marginalized people and answer the questions I faced as a youth.”

This story was adapted from an article by Nicole Chisari, communications coordinator at Winthrop University.

 

Sullivan Award Winner Overcomes Racism, Poverty to Earn Graduate Fellowship from National Science Foundation

Growing up in Jefferson City, Tennessee, Joey Jennings dealt with racism and poverty every day throughout his youth. Now the recent Winthrop University graduate, winner of the school’s prestigious 2019 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, is on his way to earning his Ph.D., thanks to a highly coveted Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation.

Jennings was one of only three sociology undergraduates nationwide to receive the fellowship, which provides him with a full ride at the University of Maryland-College Park. But the scholar-athlete, who holds two Winthrop records as a track star, had to clear major hurdles to get to where he is today.

Playing on a Little League football team introduced Jennings to the harsh reality of racism when he was only nine years old. He didn’t see himself as different from any of his teammates—until someone referred to him with a racial slur.

“I vividly remember asking my dad, ‘Why do they hate me?’” he said. “He stood up for me and put a stop to the name calling, but it did not ease my heart. I was able to grasp that the reason I was treated differently was related to my skin tone. As a result, I was not proud of my color for a long time.”

Jennings “fully experienced rock bottom” in Jefferson City. In addition to the heavy racial tension, his family (he’s one of four siblings) struggled with poverty, sometimes not having enough food on the table or going days without electricity.

“Then, everything got more difficult when I witnessed my mother being taken to jail numerous times because of her losing battles with cocaine addiction,” he said. “We struggled, it was tough, but my family is strong. My dad raised my siblings and I to fight, and that made me the man I am today.

“It is because I have witnessed numerous types of adversity and injustice, or a lack of proper justice, firsthand that I want to further my academic career in sociology and engage in social research with the hopes that I can uncover social injustice.”

In addition to his many academic achievements, Sullivan Award winner Joey Jennings holds Winthrop University records for the indoor and outdoor pole vault.

Jennings wanted to understand the questions from his past and felt that the sociology program’s criminology concentration would help him do just that; specifically, it would sate his appetite for research. He also signed on to compete in track and field at the Division I level.

For one of his research projects, he examined police brutality over a 23-year period through a public opinion survey. The survey asked participants for responses to racial relations after the Rodney King incident (1991) and the Freddie Gray incident (2015). He then reached out to Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts after reading Pitts’ series on what people can do to help, and he studied online newspaper comments referencing the Baltimore riots.

“The analysis showed that, during the 23-year period between the observed riots, public opinions on prejudice were related to systematic discrimination practices that led to marginalization of inner-city minority communities,” Jennings explained. “In turn, these communities find in riots an opportunity to bring public awareness to their constant criminalization, invisibility in the criminal justice system and marginalization.”

While simultaneously taking 14 credit hours, practicing 20 hours a week and competing almost every weekend, he found opportunities to present his research at the Southern Sociological Society Conference and Winthrop’s Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors (SOURCE). He also spent the summer of 2018 at the NSF research program at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, researching Charlotte’s homicide hotspots with a group and further presenting at UNC-C’s symposium and the Midwestern Criminal Justice Association.

Along the way, Jennings set new records for Winthrop’s indoor and outdoor pole vault and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. A Blue Line Scholar, he also received the Jacqueline Aiken Taylor Scholarship in 2016.

“It takes a lot of dedication to my crafts,” Jennings said. “School and track are equally important to me, but early on, I learned that to be great in both I had to treat them as separate entities. When I was at class, what happened at the track, good or bad, had to be out of my mind and vice versa. I spent hours studying for class and for track. I wanted to be the best in both, so I gave all I had each day to everything. That is how I was raised.”

Jennings’ other accolades and activities include: leader for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA); peer mentor and tutor; Big South All-Academic Team (2018); and Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).

After graduating from Winthrop on May 4, Jennings looks to the future.

“I know I want to make a difference; I want to enact change,” he said. “The Ph.D. is a start for me to work as an activist, to create change, and to shine an academic light on social issues that have been dark for some time now. I love learning, and I want to use my strengths to help marginalized people and answer the questions I faced as a youth.”

This article was adapted/edited slightly from a story originally published on the Winthrop University website.