An Academic Flair

Former USD provost Juiie Sullivan


Julie Sullivan had her work cut out for her when she took her post as provost of the University of San Diego. The year was 2005. The chief information officer was leaving, campus technology was behind the times, enrollment needed some tweaking, and the new Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies was waiting for a founding dean.

As Sullivan is about to end her tenure at USD to become president of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., President Mary E. Lyons, PhD, reflects on everything the outgoing provost has accomplished during her eight years with the university.

“Dr. Sullivan helped transform the University of San Diego. Her vision for excellence brought the caliber of our incoming students to the highest point in history,” Lyons says. “She has assured that we continue to attract renowned faculty members who are dedicated to giving students the practical skills and real-life experiences to make a difference in the world.”

When Sullivan arrived, USD was just starting a five-year strategic plan. She rolled up her sleeves and jumped right in. “The leadership had established the mission and vision, core values and some strategic goals, but was just starting to determine the metrics for judging the success of those goals,” she says. “So I was to able to help define success for each of those directions.”

One goal was to improve USD’s inclusiveness and diversity, which spawned a committee that grew into an advisory board, leading to a position for an associate provost, culminating in USD’s Center for Inclusion and Diversity, which was established in 2010.

“We’ve made sustainable progress in terms of increasing the enrollment of minority students but what’s more important is the culture. When I walk around campus today, not only are there more students of color and more international students, there’s a greater difference in the climate and the people and the perspectives they bring. It really enhances our learning environment.”

Sullivan helped raise USD’s academic profile — average freshman GPAs increased from 3.7 to 3.9; SAT scores increased from 1176 to 1216; and the freshman-to-sophomore retention rate increased from 85 percent to a historic 90 percent.

She helped replenish and expand the faculty base with 175 new tenured and tenure-track faculty members. She also helped enhance the first-year and second-year experience programs for students and established the International Center, the Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture, the Center for Inclusion and Diversity, the One Stop Center for Student Services, the Office of Undergraduate Research and the Council on the Advancement of Catholic Social Thought.

Sullivan also made the word “Changemaker” part of USD’s vocabulary. In 2011, Ashoka, an organization dedicated to supporting social entrepreneurs, designated USD as a Changemaker campus.

“The world has changed and our students will need these Changemaker skills,” Sullivan says. “With our Catholic foundation, we teach empathy and care for the planet. With our liberal arts foundation, we teach students to understand the complexity of the world, to recognize connections and to see how they all fit together. With the Changemaker focus, we foster students who are prepared to create sustainable solutions to the world’s problems. I can’t think of a richer education.”

Patricia Marquez, director of the Changemaker Hub, says Sullivan is the embodiment of a Changemaker.

“Julie knows that individually and together we can think, learn and act in ways that transform communities everywhere. That’s what Changemakers do.”

Life on campus has come full circle. Just as selecting a founding dean for the School of Peace Studies was one of her first tasks, hiring a founding dean for USD’s new Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering will be among her last. “I’ve always believed in pushing myself and continuing to learn and grow.” she says. “I’m ready for this next exciting chapter at St. Thomas.” — Krystn Shrieve