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Julie Sullivan

One changemaker molds a new generation of others at USD

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The University of San Diego was recently named by the global nonprofit association Ashoka as one of its “Changemaker” campuses, a distinction of which Dr. Julie H. Sullivan is duly proud.

“It means that we are recognized as being one of the universities that are most innovative in preparing our students to be changemakers, to make a positive difference in their communities, in their careers, in their neighborhoods,” USD’s executive vice president and provost said. “We are very focused on preparing students to … not only have academic knowledge skills, but also to have the interpersonal skills and attitudes to be leaders in creating positive change.”

Sullivan, who joined the university in 2005, was previously a professor in the Rady School of Management and the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at UCSD, and prior to that the Ernst and Young Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Besides the “Changemaker” recognition from Ashoka, Sullivan is proud of a business school at USD that is “bursting at the seams.” More than 40 percent of all undergrads registered are business majors.

With her background as a scholar and educator in taxation and accounting, it’s no surprise that Sullivan has an appreciation for not only the academic challenges of a university on the rise, but those of a financial nature as well.

“Our goal is to have a $500 million endowment, certainly within the next three to five years,” she said of the private institution in Alcala Park. “We’re working on that goal. We try to invest our money as wisely as possible. We try to conserve the earnings of our money to reinvest, and we try to raise more money.” Among the factors in this effort is that the average USD alumnus, Sullivan said, is only 38 years old.

“We are a young institution, but our alumni base is very strong.

“The biggest constraints for us are we’re very tuition-driven and the ability of our families to pay. We try to keep our tuition increases as small as possible. That makes it difficult to keep up with the rising costs of providing benefits to your employees and merit increases. It’s always a case of keeping our tuition as low as possible but having the resources needed to retain our employee base and reward them."

The attention to this financial balancing act, however, does not overshadow or interfere with the university’s mission to educate well-rounded students.

“I think all universities are being called upon to better articulate their relevance, their value in terms of preparing their graduates for short-term and long-term success,” Sullivan said.

“We want our students to understand complex problems, to be empathetic, to understand what it’s like to put themselves in the shoes of another person, to be inspired to believe they can make a difference,” said Sullivan. “We’ve got to continue to be creative and innovative. It’s not just about pouring knowledge into a head. It’s about holistic education that prepares the person and inspires that person to make a difference in the world. We want those to be USD alumni.”


-Coddon is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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