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History Spotlight

Jessica Sullivan: Passing the Torch of Teaching

“I learned a lot about balancing priorities and pushing myself while I was at Transylvania, and those skills are truly invaluable. The kind of active citizen that a liberal arts school pushes you to become helped me decide to pursue Teach for America.”

Jessica Sullivan '09 witnessed the value of good teachers before she ever led her own classroom. Now an educator with Teach for America, Sullivan credits Transylvania history professors Gregg Bocketti and Melissa McEuen for helping her find her way.

"Academically, they pushed me hard," she says. "Their high expectations became so ingrained that I became a significantly better writer and historian as a result."

Jessica Sullivan teachingThe hard work and growth inspired by her professors inspired Sullivan to emulate them. "Their combined efforts helped me fall in love with history as a profession and convinced me that I wanted to pursue history in graduate school and teaching as a career."

Sullivan's next step was New York University, where she studied under acclaimed historian Linda Gordon. "I had read some of her work in Dr. McEuen's classes, and I would sometimes pinch myself sitting in her office," Sullivan remembers. "The opportunity to work so close and personally with a respected historian that I admired so much was truly priceless."

Sullivan's experience at Transylvania put her on the fast track. "The history department required a level of reading, writing, and historical analysis that many other students at NYU had clearly never seen," she says.

But Sullivan was ready. After reading a sample of her writing, Gordon pushed Sullivan into a Ph.D. seminar. That writing sample was an excerpt from her Transylvania honors thesis—a project that Bocketti and McEuen had helped her research and polish. Without them, she says, "I never would have been invited to that class."

Sullivan completed her master's at NYU in 2011 and is currently working on a master's in childhood special education at Fordham University. After starting out teaching first grade, she now leads her own third grade class at a charter school in Brooklyn, where most of her students are immigrants from the Caribbean.

"Kentucky is quite the mysterious place for them," she says. Sullivan has shown them pictures of horse farms, acquainted them with University of Kentucky basketball, and of course, told them about Transylvania. "The name Transylvania is usually enough to throw them into giggles." 

Sullivan's impact on her students is evident. "One little girl in my class wrote me a letter asking me to tell her more so that she could go visit Kentucky some day," Sullivan says.

And once again, history comes full circle. Sullivan is now the teacher inspiring the young students in her class.

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