‘The angels among us’ 2006 Sullivan Award Winners
By Kathleen D. Valenzi
The 2006 recipients of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards are students Jessica C. Fowler and Alexander W. Stolar, and Senior Associate Dean of Students
V. Shamim Sisson. Variously described by nominators as “the unsung heroes of our community” and “the angels among us,” they receive their awards at Valedictory Exercises on May 20.
Created in 1925, the awards are given to distinguished fourth-year students and members of the University community in memory of the award’s namesake, a New York lawyer, businessman and philanthropist. The awards are intended to perpetuate the excellence of character and humanitarian service he epitomized.
Jessica C. Fowler
Jessica Fowler has served the U.Va. community through participation in the Office of African-American Affairs’ Peer Adviser Program, Sustained Dialogue, The Young Women’s Leadership Program, the Honor Committee, Black Voices, the Impact Movement and Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
Fowler said that her faith motivates her to service and scholarship. “I am a firm believer that to whom much is given much is required,” she said, citing Luke 12:48 from the Bible.
“I have watched family members work hard,” she added, “and those who came before me, as far as older students, really laid a foundation for me and set an example of success.”
A native of St. Louis, Mo., Fowler att ended the University as a Jefferson Scholar and Echols Scholar and will graduate with a bachelor of arts degree in political and social thought.
In nominating Fowler for the award, associate dean of African-American affairs Sylvia V. Terry noted Fowler’s “stellar academic record”; her full commitment to the Peer Advisor Program; and her support last fall of students who struggled to make sense of acts of hatred and racial bias that had occurred shortly after the school year began. These reasons, Terry said, justified Fowler’s selection.
After graduation, Fowler will spend the summer participating in an evangelical music group, which teaches young adults how to share their faith through music and is sponsored by the national Impact Movement.
While she has been accepted to three medical schools (University of Pennsylvania, Duke University and Washington University in St. Louis), she is deferring for one year to participate in an internship with either Here’s Life Inner City or Urban Promise, both Christian service organizations, beginning in the fall.
Alexander W. Stolar
A resident of Wilton, Conn., Stolar will graduate from U.Va. with a bachelor of arts degree in foreign affairs that has prepared him for his first job in India next year. But so did activities on Grounds.
He served for two years as chairman of the Student Council Legislative Affairs Committee and, in that role, represented the University’s students in the Virginia General Assembly.
Stolar also worked for two years as a resident assistant in U.Va.’s Resident Staff Program and, during his fourth year on Grounds, as the senior resident in Maupin House. In those roles, he said, he “empowered” his first-year residents to develop a community where everyone felt welcomed and valued. He also learned that “everyone can make a difference, and that small acts of kindness go a long way.”
Fellow student Ashley Belyea points out that Stolar’s service to U.Va. also includes serving as vice-chairman of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Student Advisory Committee and as chairman of the First Year Council Minority and Women’s Concerns Committee, and participation in the Black Voices gospel choir.
“However, a list of activities could never capture why Alex epitomizes the service and work of Algernon Sydney Sullivan,” Belyea said. “It is the nature and spirit of his involvement that make Alex an incredibly deserving recipient and a fellow Wahoo of whom we can all be proud.
“Lest you think Alex is one of those perpetual ‘joiners’ who ignores his classes, he also completed the rigorous Distinguished Majors Program in the Department of Politics,” Belyea added.
Following graduation, Stolar will serve as a research intern at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi, India, in support of the institute’s research on nuclear stability and nuclear non-proliferation.
V. Shamim Sisson
Sisson was the right person to receive this year’s Sullivan Award, according to her nominators, for reasons that unanimously included her strong leadership, her professionalism and her dedication to the students she has served since her arrival at U.Va. in 1988.
While a complete list of Sisson’s contributions to U.Va. are too numerous to list here, nearly every nominator cited her strong advocacy of women’s issues and her equally strong advocacy of diversity as particularly important contributions to the institution.
When asked, Sisson mentioned two initiatives of which she is particularly proud: the Women’s Leadership Development Program, which grew out of concerns by a female Student Council officer in 1990 that cultural and institutional factors might be discouraging other female students from putting themselves forward for leadership positions, and the Office of Student Life, which she directs and helped found to build strong support for historically under-represented groups such as Asian and Asian Pacific American; Latino and Hispanic; and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, while continuing to work with students from all backgrounds through individual assistance and ongoing programs.
“For me, what is most special about Shamim is her uncanny ability to be completely and authentically present when you talk to her,” wrote one nominator, Tabitha A. Enoch, director of Orientation and New Student Programs. “It is her affable personality, her genuine spirit and the depth of her convictions that draw me to her. It is her firm belief in the principles of fairness, kindness and authentic compassion that inspire me to be a better person. In my opinion, she personifies nobility of character, because in all issues great and small, she puts others’ needs before her own and does it with effortless perfection.”
Sisson retires from U.Va. on June 30. A talented artist, she plans to use her retirement to cultivate her artistic interests, take more lessons and dedicate time to painting more regularly and seriously. Additionally, she hopes to travel with her husband, Jim Cooper, the former dean who retired two years ago from the faculty of U.Va.’s Curry School of Education.