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YOUNG ALUMNAE SPOTLIGHT: COLLEEN SULLIVAN

The following post was written by guest blogger, Jessica Storoschuk, Beta Gamma–University of Manitoba.

Colleen Sullivan, Beta Delta–Indiana University Bloomington, initiated into Alpha Gamma Delta in 1998. She completed a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Political Science in 2001 and received her Master of Mass Communication from the University of Georgia in 2006. For the past four years, she has worked for NBA TV/Turner Sports and currently serves as Senior Associate Director.

What are your three biggest takeaways from your collegiate years that have helped you in your career?

  1. Participating in many activities while in college taught me a lot about balancing life. I was Vice President–Recruitment then Chapter President of Alpha Gam, a sports writer for the IDS and a volunteer youth sports coach in Bloomington while in college. It took me a year to figure out how to balance everything. Let’s just forget about those freshman year grades, shall we? But ultimately, that prepared me to be an active and driven adult.
  2. College also prepared me for my career by exposing me to different views. Although from Georgia, I grew up in a very liberal suburb of Atlanta. Going to college in Bloomington was kind of a shock for me. I was exposed to a lot of conservative views which allowed for great discussions and an examination of what ideals I really held high.
  3. I’m not sure if this helped me in my career exactly, though occasionally my career path crosses with someone from college, but I made some of my closest friends in college. Although most of my college friends live in Indy or Chicago now, they are still the first people I call when major life events happen. The day my son was diagnosed with autism was the same day we found out the network I worked for was shutting down. I can still remember sitting in my car in the parking lot and calling one of my sorority sisters. It’s nice to know I can always count on those friendships.

What experiences in Alpha Gamma Delta directly impacted your current job and how?

I keep thinking back to work/life balance. Being an Alpha Gam helped me hone my leadership skills and learn to balance my school work, sorority life and volunteer work. As Chapter President, I learned to deal with many different personalities and mediate problems within the house. I’ll admit, now with 18 years’ experience, there are a lot of things I would have done differently, but it was an excellent learning experience for me. All those experiences have impacted the leader I am today both in my career and my community.

How do you Live the Purpose through your career and personal life?

Almost 20 years after Initiation, I still remember all the words to the Purpose. When I memorized those words, I had no idea how accurately they would pertain to my life as an adult. I think the line “to welcome the opportunity of contributing to the world’s work in the community where I am placed because of the joy of service thereby bestowed and the talent of leadership multiplied” speaks most to the passion I have for helping the autism community (and the leadership skills I’ve gained as a result) and raising my children to be helpers in the community.

You have made such a remarkable impact on your community. Not only do you have an incredibly demanding job, you serve on more than one board to advance autism and neurodiversity research and representation, as well as raising your three young children. Do you feel your membership in Alpha Gamma Delta contributed to your drive to make a difference?

My drive to make a difference started at a pretty early age, but membership in Alpha Gamma Delta certainly helped fuel that drive. I think having sorority-sponsored service events in the community helps motivate collegiate sisters to be good stewards. It reminds us all there are things bigger than grades, parties and basketball games and we can make an impact by helping out in the community.

Working Mother magazine has named you working mother of the year, specifically because of everything you not only balance but also succeed in. How do you think you were prepared to manage everything? And who inspired you to be so committed to everything you do?

Being a well-rounded person was always a priority in my house. I could play soccer and basketball, but I also had to maintain very high grades. I played a sport every season, was the editor of our high school yearbook, took all my school’s AP classes and was a math tutor, all while trying to maintain some modicum of a social life. When my younger brother was born (we’re 10 years apart), I realized I had a passion for working with kids and I coached his youth soccer and basketball teams for three seasons before I graduated high school. When I went to IU, I took that same attitude with me—I was the President of our Alpha Gam chapter, took honors classes, was a tutor for the athletic department and volunteered as a youth soccer and basketball coach in Bloomington. Being an active member in our community was something that was expected in our family. We never really talked about it, but because my family had strong roots in my hometown, we learned from the examples set by my parents and grandparents.

You currently work to advocate for diversity in hiring practices for your employer. How did you educate yourself in order to serve on the board? And what are the best ways for sisters to make a difference at their place of employment?

When I first started at Turner four years ago, I was the Chair of the Autism Speaks Georgia Gala and I was looking for sponsorships for the Gala. After a lot of digging, I found the Office of Corporate Responsibility and inquired about donations. Because Turner is such a large company and receives donation requests all the time, Turner’s signature corporate philanthropy program strategically invests in community arts and culture and youth development. Turner does support employee participation in nonprofits outside the community and arts footprint through matching donations and volunteer grants, but I realized I wasn’t going to get the big-ticket donation I was hoping for. I started thinking, “how can I find a way to make a meaningful impact in the autism community while also helping my company?” Fairly quickly, I realized by making an effort to re-think our hiring practices to be more inclusive of neurodiverse applicants, we could address the company’s need for more diverse voices in our storytelling.

Educating myself on autism and neurodiversity was easy. Autism Speaks has a ton of resources available to the public and I immediately looked for ways to get involved. I reached out to our Georgia Chapter to see if I could help plan the Gala and things just went from there. After being an active volunteer for a couple of years, I was one of the original board members of the Autism Speaks Georgia Chapter and now serve on the Executive Leadership committee. Because I was already very active with Autism Speaks on the local level, educating myself on neurodiversity just meant taking that activity to the national level. I’ve met with the Autism Speaks Director of Adult Services multiple times and participated in conference calls and webinars on neurodiversity and employment issues. I’m constantly reading new studies and books that are published regarding autism and neurodiversity. It’s a subject I’m obviously very interested in, so educating myself has never really been a problem. Most companies participate in some sort of charitable giving already. If you want to make more of an impact at your place of employment, identify how your company can do more in the community and why it’s a good business decision for them to do so. Then take that idea to any higher up who will listen.

What advice can you give alumnae looking to be challenged and to make a difference in their community?

Find your passion and commit yourself to it. There are thousands of ways to get involved in your community and help others. Use your specific talents to make a difference. If you can’t find an existing opportunity that speaks to you, then create one. Our time is a precious commodity, what better way to show you care than donating your time to help others? Whenever someone asks me how I find the time to do everything I do, I remember this quote, “Volunteers do not necessarily have the time: they just have the heart.”

You are a model Alpha Gamma Delta, and truly represent everything our Founders wanted our sisters to be. What can advisors and young alumnae do to inspire collegiate sisters to push themselves and work in their communities?

I think everyone wants to do good in the world or do the right thing, we just sometimes don’t know how to get started. Our signature philanthropy is great, but I would encourage advisors and young alumnae to share their experiences in other philanthropies as well. Communicate with collegiate sisters about opportunities and how to get involved in the community, on campus or with a 501c3. Share stories with collegiate sisters about why you work in the community, what you’ve been able to accomplish and who you have helped. Through service to the community, collegiate sisters may find a future career path they never considered or at the very least, meet new people and make new connections.

To learn more about Colleen Sullivan’s Working Mom of the Year nomination, click here.

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