Currently: Associate professor of practice and design
On Ut Prosim: Sullivan has overseen a service-learning project entitled Empty Bowls through one of her courses in 12 of her 15 years at Virginia Tech. Empty Bowls is a grassroots national movement of artists and crafters who raise money to combat food insecurity in local communities by selling their art. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, groups of students at Virginia Tech took part by making soup bowls for an event that paying patrons within the community attended, with each student constructing 10 to 20 bowls. Approximate 400 people attended in 2019, ate soup prepared by the students, and then took home the bowls.
“The guests take home the bowls as a reminder of all those who go hungry,” Sullivan said.
Over the years through the Empty Bowls project, Sullivan’s students have raised more than $20,000- for Micah’s Backpack, which provides direct food assistance to area children experiencing food insecurity. For the past four years, Sullivan and her students have partnered with Plenty!, a food bank in Floyd County that holds a community bike ride annually to raise money to stock a free community food pantry. The students’ bowls are a part of fundraising efforts.
“I think people need entry-level opportunities to really be mindful citizens and really be connected to their community and realize if we all give a little, the community is going to be just amazing,” Sullivan said. “So the community service aspect is really important to me, and it's important to the department, and the students really benefit from that.”
On the importance of offering service opportunities to students: “I would say community service is one of the four main pillars of our department. When our students leave here, they have had some form of community engagement. I would hope that most of the kids who graduate feel, in whatever region and whatever way they want, empowered by design and feel like they could be activists toward a healthy, happy future.”
On the importance of service for Virginia Tech’s future: “The idea of a personal or community connection across projects, having this sort of authentic relationship with the community that surrounds Virginia Tech, I think that it's key to going forward. … I like to send my students off to internships, but I also like to utilize the resources that we have on campus to better the community because a lot of our folks will stay in Virginia. They may not stay in Blacksburg or Montgomery County, but a lot of the kids who are going to graduate from this university are going to stay in Virginia, and every time we invest in them, we invest in our own state. To me, that is the future.”