Enjoying the college experience
University president-elect shares information about her family, childhood, interests
During her days as a student at Michigan State, University president-elect Teresa A. Sullivan remembers feeling like "a kid in a candy store."
"I kept saying to myself, 'Wow this is great!'" she said. "There were so many wonderful things to do. I loved class, the organizations, hanging with friends." Sullivan enjoyed the university setting so much that 40 years later, she still has not left it.
After earning a doctoral degree in sociology from the University of Chicago, Sullivan joined the faculty there in 1977. Four years later she took a teaching position at the University of Texas, Austin, where she was later promoted to a number of administrative posts including sociology department chair and vice provost. By 2002, she was named executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, a job that made her chief academic officer for the system's nine academic campuses. After 27 years at Texas, she returned to Michigan, where she served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan for nearly four years.
The Board of Visitors unanimously voted Sullivan Jan. 11 to succeed University President John T. Casteen, III. She will be the eighth person and the first female to hold the position.
Though this will be Sullivan's first college presidency, she already has made a name for herself in the field of higher education. Her colleagues particularly note her intelligence and work ethic.
"Terry Sullivan is both a distinguished academic and a stellar administrator, known for her sparkling intellect as well as her superb people skills," University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman stated in a press release. "Working with her has been one of the highlights of my career, and although we will all miss her, we take pride in knowing that she will preside over one of the nation's great public universities."
Additionally, Sullivan is known to have a knack for problem solving, said Douglas Laycock, University of Michigan Law professor and Sullivan's husband of 38 years, though he did admit his bias.\n"She has a deep intuition and she sees how pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fit together," he said. "She's also unflappable, she's great with people and she's very smart."
Throughout the years, Sullivan's professional career has required a significant amount of her time and energy. Nevertheless, she has been able to find a balance between her job and her personal life.\nShe and Laycock have two children, Joseph, 29, and John, 22. Joseph is pursuing his doctorate at Boston University and John recently graduated from the University of Chicago.
"In an ordinary week, particularly now that they're out of the house, there's not too much time for recreation," Laycock said, adding that much of the family's time together takes place during the holidays, when their sons return home.
"What they enjoy a lot is eating my cooking, so Christmas is always an opportunity for us to do that," Sullivan said. "We mostly spend a lot of time talking. Our family is big on board games, so Scrabble comes out."
During her free time, Sullivan said she also likes to volksmarch, a type of non-competitive fitness walking along an outdoor path.
Spending time outdoors is something she has enjoyed since her childhood.
"I was active in camping, and I was an avid swimmer though I wasn't good enough to do it competitively," Sullivan said.
Born in Kewanee, Ill., but raised in Little Rock, Ark. and Jackson, Miss., Sullivan remembered Arkansas as a place "full of outdoor recreation opportunities."
She and her mother moved to Mississippi when she was 11 years old. The move was right after her father, an artilleryman and World War II veteran, died from a heart condition.
"There was a big watershed moment when my dad died," she said. "My parents had a close marriage and it was fun growing up with them ... It was quite an adjustment for my mom and me, she worked to support us after that and did a very good job of it. I have very great sympathy for single moms because I know how tough it is."
Sullivan's mother also aided in the 1940s war effort. Thanks in some part to the G.I. Bill, both of her parents were able to attend to college.
Education has always been an important part of Sullivan's life.
"I was great in school ... and I always really, really liked it."
She began to consider an educational career in college after she earned an internship at the president's office at Michigan State University. The purpose of the internship was to prepare promising students for future college presidencies.
"I was giving them exposure, and giving them an opportunity," then-president Clifton Wharton said in an interview with The Washington Post. "They were able to see what I was trying to accomplish, and how I went at it."
In only a few months, Sullivan will finally be able to put that learning opportunity to use.