“If there’s something you want to do, just go out there and do it.”
It’s a philosophy that brought Jeannie Sullivan to southern Oregon’s Ophir Beach to assist with the rare necropsy — an animal autopsy — of a blue whale, an opportunity that was equally thrilling and foreign to her.
Still, she put her qualms aside for the chance to work with the world-renowned whale expert who inspired her to move all the way from Buffalo, New York, to attend Oregon State: Bruce Mate, director of the university’s Marine Mammal Institute.
“Sometimes you have to get outside of your comfort zone, because that’s where you learn the most about yourself,” she says.
In this case, it meant spending “six days knee-deep in whale” with a team of volunteers, removing blubber with steak knives and documenting the massive effort by snapping photographs for Mate’s team. The endangered blue whale is the largest animal on Earth, and this was the first of its kind to wash ashore in Oregon. Plans are underway to display the whale’s skeleton at Oregon State’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.
Sullivan has actively pursued multiple opportunities at Oregon State to grow as a person and a leader. A senior majoring in agricultural sciences with minors in speech communication and leadership, she has studied abroad twice through the Semester at Sea program.
On her first voyage, she immersed herself in the cultures of 15 nations, including Cuba — one of the countries on her bucket list. For her second voyage during winter term 2016, she’s visiting a new set of countries. Semester at Sea classes reflect the places students visit; Sullivan took classes for her major, minor, baccalaureate core and even a few just for fun.
On campus, Sullivan works as a mentor for the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), which focuses on bringing underrepresented students to the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math.
“It’s my community on campus,” Sullivan says. “Without it, I wouldn’t have been successful.”
Coming from a very diverse community in Buffalo, Sullivan says adjusting to a new place with far fewer people of color was hard — but getting involved with LSAMP made her feel more at home. Sullivan’s experience also helped her realize how powerful it is to be an African American woman in STEM. As a result, she’s adjusted her career plans and now wants to work in advising or recruiting at the university level.
“Not a lot of students of color go into STEM,” she says. “I really want to help other students realize they can do this.”
And she’s already inspiring others. Sullivan works as a tour ambassador for the Office of Admissions,. As part of her pitch to potential students and their parents, she encourages them to explore their options and to reach out to the campus community when they feel stuck.
She puts parents’ minds at ease, too.
“Parents like to hear what I’ve done, what my friends have done,” she says. “They like to hear a student’s perspective on what it’s like here and what the opportunities are.”
For students, Sullivan’s advice about attending college is simple: “Don’t say you can’t do something. You can always do something.”
She’s done plenty.