Mary Baldwin University’s 90-year partnership with social and environmental justice education nonprofit, Sullivan Foundation, has expanded: Annual cohorts of four rising sophomores will now receive fellowships that continue through their senior year.
The program provides funding, resources, and support that, according to a foundation press release, helps participants “embark on a three-year journey to learn how to become the leaders and changemakers of tomorrow.” It will connect students with like-minded peers from other colleges and universities, scientists, scholars, activists, B corp leaders, and others that will mentor them as they tackle three-year projects to launch or expand a business or service aimed at affecting positive social or environmental change.
“This is going to enable students with an interest in social entrepreneurship to basically write their own ticket,” said MBU assistant professor of social work and Sullivan sponsor, Dr. Lora Cantwell. “It’s an incredible opportunity, and we’re very excited to be able to offer it to our students moving forward.”
Mary Baldwin’s affiliation with the New York-based Sullivan Foundation dates to the establishment of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award in 1933. Given annually at Commencement, the award is one of the university’s highest honors, and is presented to graduating students and faculty or staff members that have gone above-and-beyond to serve their community.
The university’s relationship with the foundation has grown through the years, with students participating in sponsored activities like annual spring and fall retreats that serve as incubators for ideas around social entrepreneurialism. In 2019, Sullivan named MBU its first official partner campus. Mary Baldwin was subsequently one of six schools to be selected as a Sullivan Fellows Campus when the fellowship program launched earlier this year.
The foundation sees this as a way to leverage their rich network of alumni, supporters, and resources to basically hypercharge students’ ability to engage, said Cantwell. As the program grows and further entrenches itself in MBU’s campus culture, “that ability is going to improve dramatically.”
MBU currently has four Sullivan fellows, and Cantwell intends to grow that number to 12 within the next three years. First-years meet regularly with other fellows and a faculty sponsor to discuss and develop ideas around leadership and the kinds of social problems they would like to address. They attend the annual Ignite Retreat, a leadership seminar, and take field trips to visit businesses and organizations dedicated to social innovation. Second-years pitch projects and start to bring them to fruition using feedback and guidance from Sullivan Foundation mentors and alumni. Third-years implement their projects, serve as peer mentors for younger fellows, and attend networking events with partner employers. Participants all receive yearly scholarship funding.
Inaugural fellows say they’re already seeing big benefits.
“This experience has been so rewarding and fulfilling,” said biology major Gretchen Lutz ’25. “Everything and everyone — from my peers, to the faculty, to the fellowship itself — has been so supportive. They’ve created spaces to grow, both on campus and at events. Speakers fuel our passion and interests, and offer clarity on how we can approach our projects.”
Lutz looks forward to the next two years. She says the program is progressively changing how she views the world, and thereby setting her up for personal and professional success.
“I now find in my community not a collection of problems, but rather a collection of solutions to be found,” Lutz said. As an aspiring physician, “that perspective is critical as I look to my future in the medical field, where there’s a constant search for answers, both in the system and in individual patients. These next two years will allow me to build on that, while also helping me gain new abilities, meet new people, and explore new mindsets.”
Cantwell shares Lutz’s excitement for the future. She believes the fellowship program could soon become one of MBU’s flagship offerings.
When it reaches full capacity, “new students will have access to peer mentors that can provide encouragement, guidance, and even opportunities to join existing projects,” Cantwell said. Her goal is to build a culture of support “that gets students excited and sparks ideas. I want to help them see what’s possible, and feel confident they can bring their ideas to life, no matter how big they may be.”
“I now find in my community not a collection of problems, but rather a collection of solutions to be found.”
Gretchen Lutz ’25, MBU Sullivan Foundation fellow
Interested in learning more about Sullivation Foundation fellowships at MBU?
The university will host an event to celebrate the new program and 90 years of partnership from 5–7 p.m. on April 21 at MBU at The Wharf.