Sullivan’s endowed scholarship will support first-generation college students majoring in the life sciences
Cheryl Gibson Sullivan (B.S. ’74, biological sciences) was the first in her family to graduate from college. Her mother was the first to graduate from high school. Sullivan chose to attend the University of Maryland because it was local—she graduated from DuVal High School in Lanham, Maryland, in 1968.
Unable to afford college right away, Sullivan learned typing and shorthand at a business trade school and started working in the office of John Brademas, an Indiana congressman. There, she met an intern named Frank Sullivan Jr. and married him in 1972. Sullivan Jr. became an Indiana Supreme Court justice and is now a Professor of Practice at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.
When Sullivan enrolled at UMD in 1969, she majored in biological sciences because she wanted to become a doctor.
“Most of my college memories are of juggling work and school and trying to save money,” said Sullivan, who lived with her parents to cut down on expenses. “But my best memory is getting married to Frank in the Memorial Chapel and having the reception at the Rossborough Inn.”
Choosing not to pursue medical school after graduation, Sullivan took a job in health policy. She also became interested in the impact of the environment on human health and earned a master’s degree in environmental science from Indiana University in 1986.
“Some of my career trajectory arose from what doors of opportunity were open at the time,” Sullivan explained. “And one open door led to another. I feel very fortunate to have had a fabulous career in health policy.”
The first door of opportunity that opened for Sullivan was a position as research assistant in the former Office of Technology Assessment in the U.S. Congress. As part of the office’s health program, she contributed to reports evaluating medical technologies, such as computerized tomography scanners, for their safety, efficiency and efficacy. A second door opened in 1993 when recently elected Indiana Governor Evan Bayh asked Sullivan to join his cabinet as secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.
“Bayh was very forward thinking, and I had been a supporter of his policies that made the government work for the families we served,” Sullivan said. “When someone like that asks if you would work for him, you say ‘Yes!’.”
In 2005, Bayh was elected to the U.S. Senate and once again asked Sullivan to join him. She agreed, serving as his deputy chief of staff for policy. In that role, she helped craft health care legislation such as the “Health Care for Members of the Armed Forces Exposed to Chemical Hazards Act of 2009,” the “Nurses’ Higher Education and Loan Repayment Act of 2009” and the “Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act of 2007.”
Today, Sullivan is CEO of the American Academy of Nursing and serves as the academy’s spokesperson and liaison with the federal government, major policy organizations, the media and foundations.
“My Maryland degree in biology produced the corners to the puzzle of my life, and I’ve been filling in the pieces as I go,” Sullivan said of her career. “In fact, I’m still filling them in.”
One puzzle piece came from serving as vice chancellor for external affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis from 1997 to 2005. There, she encountered many struggling first-generation college students.
“I could see myself in those students,” Sullivan said. “Even though it was 30 years after I had gone to college, I could see there was still a tremendous need for financial help, especially for first-generation students who don’t have the support around them to have the college experience that they should have.”
Those students inspired Sullivan to give back to her alma mater and help improve the experiences of today’s first-generation college students.
“I have the privilege of being part of one of the first generations in which women produced their own wealth,” Sullivan said. “It’s important for women to make their own decisions and to assist in family decisions as to where their philanthropy dollars will go. I believe in individuals giving at a level that is meaningful to them and supporting causes that are important to them. As we see more and more women in high-paying, high-level positions, I hope that they embrace a culture of philanthropy, both within their family and within their business or organization.”
True to her own words, Sullivan established the Cheryl Gibson Sullivan Endowed Scholarship at UMD in 2017. Her $50,000 endowment will support need-based scholarships for first-generation college students in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences who are majoring in the life sciences.
“I hope that with this scholarship, students in need can concentrate more on their studies than on their work hours,” Sullivan said. “I also know that some students choose not to start college because they don’t have the funds, so I hope that I can give those students enough of a nudge to open that door for them.”
Media Relations Contact: Irene Ying, 301-405-5204, firstname.lastname@example.org
About the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences
The College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland educates more than 9,000 future scientific leaders in its undergraduate and graduate programs each year. The college’s 10 departments and more than a dozen interdisciplinary research centers foster scientific discovery with annual sponsored research funding exceeding $175 million.