Tuesday, September 2, 2014

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Class of 2013: Class President Has Practiced Leadership in Many Ways

Entering the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy was perhaps a natural progression for Sheridan Fuller after serving as class president in his Virginia Beach high school, among other activities. He has taken the opportunity to study different facets of leadership and put them into action: This year he has been president of U.Va.’s Class of 2013.

One of his last acts as president will be giving a farewell speech at Valediction, part of Finals Weekend – and he’s only slightly daunted that he’ll be speaking after the headliner, comedian Stephen Colbert.

Fuller will return to U.Va. next year to complete the Batten School’s accelerated program for a master’s degree in public policy, so he’s not really saying goodbye to U.Va. like most other graduates to whom he’ll direct his remarks on Saturday.

This fall, he’ll continue focusing on the topic he’s been working on since high school: education policy and reform. And this summer, he’ll be putting to work what he has learned so far, interning for Connecticut’s Council for Education Reform and conducting a financial analysis of schools in Waterbury.

Connecticut has the highest achievement gap between white and minority students of all 50 states, Fuller said. “I’ll get to use the tools I’ve learned and have an impact I can see,” he said.

The culmination of the internship will be giving a presentation that addresses the challenges to closing the achievement gap and looking at whether reallocating education funds can help schools with low-performing students.

“The challenges in education are not easy. You have to be committed at whatever level you’re at, whether teaching or making policies,” he said.

During the summers between college years, Fuller has gone back to Virginia Beach and worked in the Office of Student Leadership for the Virginia Beach City Public School System. The office has programs for teachers and students in middle school and high school, and has specifically focused on helping African-American male students.

“Virginia Beach started working on closing the achievement gap while I was in high school,” said Fuller, who credits his parents with instilling in him the importance of education. He also attended leadership workshops offered at his school.

With his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, Fuller planned a symposium on the advancement of education in Central Virginia, held on Grounds in April. The range of speakers representing institutions, educators, politicians, businesses and organizations included U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan, as well as several regional school superintendents and principals.

Fuller said he’s interested in the ideas and assumptions that have shaped school curricula and whether they contribute to the racial achievement gap. He wanted to present the symposium to explore “what we can do as community members to help improve education.”

At U.Va., Fuller has been a leader in several other ways: for one, he’s been a peer adviser through the Office of African-American Affairs’ award-winning Peer Advisor Program.

“I had a peer adviser, so it sparked me to do the same,” he said, stressing the importance of learning from classmates.

He’s also been a resident adviser and last year was the senior resident, leading the staff of RAs for Bonneycastle and Hancock dorms. He’ll be an RA next year, too.

As a student worker for U.Va. Reunions, he helped coordinate last year’s Black Alumni Weekend.

As head of the 2013 class trustees, Fuller led the programming efforts this year, a combination of social events “to bring the class together,” he said, and workshops, often involving alumni, to help fourth-year students with the transition to life after college and pursuing careers.

Although Fuller might seem to have his own path figured out, he has not taken his educational opportunities for granted, he said.

“I’ve been exposed to things that make you think,” he said. From some of his classes, especially those with associate history professor Claudrena Harold in the College of Arts & Sciences, he learned to take a balanced approach to issues of race in America, he said, to explore the politics of interpretation and expose misperceptions.

For him, the hardest lesson in college has been developing self-awareness and reflection, he said. That has helped him explore his interests, focus on them and review what his life’s journey is all about – which undoubtedly will inform his actions as a leader in the future.

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