The power of relationships

The enduring partnership of Rollins College and the Sullivan Foundation

By: Ja’Mara Washington and Mary Conway Dato-on

Rollins College of Winter Park, Florida, holds a special place in the history of the Sullivan Foundation as one of its oldest member schools. But that special connection
is about more than mere longevity. From the earliest days of the partnership between these two institutions, Rollins and Sullivan have helped each other grow and evolve in their mutual commitment to service. This feature takes a look at the history as well as the future of the Rollins-Sullivan relationship through the voices of faculty and students at the college who celebrate service in all its forms

Many business leaders say, “It’s not what you know, but who you know that matters in life.” This phrase rings true for Rollins College and the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation.  The relationship between Hamilton Holt, 8th President of Rollins College (1925-1949), and George Sullivan, son of Algernon Sydney Sullivan and Mary Mildred Sullivan, was the beginning of a social entrepreneurship journey—one that continues to this day.

George Sullivan and Hamilton Holt

The Sullivans were philanthropists who supported their community. Algernon, a lawyer in New York, was known for fighting for the “underdogs” in society, while his wife, Mary, worked with churches, social institutions, and schools, mostly in the South during the Civil War. George followed his parents’ philanthropic lead, and in the 1920s formed a close relationship with Holt, then serving as president of Rollins College.

The birth of a partnership

Sullivan partnered with the New York Southern Society, the organization his father had founded and served as president. In 1926, he asked Holt to assist in awarding two students at Rollins—one graduating and one continuing—the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Medallion. The recognition was meant to be “bestowed, not earned” on individuals whose noble work in the community portrayed service above self.

Holt accepted, and the first award was given to Irving Berlinger in 1927. Today, Rollins awards the Sullivan Medallion to up to three individuals annually: one graduating male student, one graduating female student, and one locally-based resident.

In 1930, Sullivan created the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation to commemorate the life and work of his parents. A close relationship between Rollins and the Sullivan Foundation grew with the start of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Scholars Program in 1936. This program provided scholarships to juniors and seniors at Rollins for exceptional service to the Winter Park area or in communities around the world.

History repeats itself

Top: Stephanie Sang, a 2015 graduate of Rollins College and alumna of Rollins’ Algernon Sydney Sullivan Scholars Program, visits with children during a field study centered on education in Rwanda. Bottom: Melissa Looby, 2015 graduate and Sullivan Scholars Program alumna, poses with a friend while working for Rollins’ service organization Immersion

The program is still going strong today. Recommended students are selected based on an essay about how they attempt to live according to the values the Sullivans held dear. Once accepted, students receive a modest one-time monetary gift to use in support of their work. New members are accepted by referral every fall and spring term. The scholars continue their community-building efforts without fanfare or wide recognition as recipients.

The Sullivan-Rollins connection has deepened in the new millennium with the Sullivan Tuition Assistance Scholarship, which now annually provides 50 percent of undergraduate tuition costs to one rising junior who has financial need and whose co-curricular involvement portrays exemplary service above self.

An eye toward the future

Recently, Rollins and Sullivan Foundation leadership have sought more sustainable solutions to persistent community needs through curricular and co-curricular efforts. Emphasis on social entrepreneurship has become a priority and led to the development of the semi-annual Sullivan Service and Social Entrepreneurship Program retreats.

The retreats aim to encourage attendees to communicate and initiate their social ideas. A scholarship was formed to enable two students and one faculty member to attend the retreat in hopes they will return to campus with innovative solutions to the community’s persistent problems.

Simultaneously, Rollins developed its Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainability Initiative (SESi) (renamed to the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Hub in 2015) and supported students and faculty in developing methods to address societal inequalities via sustainable solutions. In 2012, Rollins earned recognition as an Ashoka U Changemaker Campus, acknowledging its leadership, innovation, and commitment to social entrepreneurship.

The connection between Holt and Sullivan proves the power of relationships. Two men who valued giving back to society wished to recognize and empower individuals who acted in the interest of others, and 88 years later, their ideas continue to foster new developments.

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