University Relations and Marketing

Contacts:
Kim Schweikert, MSU Billings Downtown, 896-5888
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269

April 22, 2011

Outstanding senior defines the word 'busy'

Double majoring in Spanish and biology, Thomas Sullivan always found time for service

By Dan Carter
MSU Billings News Services

If Microsoft were ever to add another synonym to the term “busy” in their auto-finder selection for Word documents, don’t be surprised if it happens to be the name of a college student: Thomas Sullivan.

photo of Thomas SullivanNot only is the 21-year-old Billings resident graduating April 29 from Montana State University Billings with two degrees, but is also carrying a lifetime of community service experience jammed into his college career. 

And that’s just the way he likes it.

“If I were to give freshman some advice, I would tell them to definitely find something that you can be involved in,” Sullivan said during a short break between classes recently. “Whether it’s tutoring or academics or activities, it allows you to relax.”

Relax?

Being connected to the university and to the community brings a focus, he said. Being busy is not being frantic.

“You seem to be more connected and seem to have a purpose that way,” he said.

It wasn’t as if he didn’t have his hands full with academics. The Billings Skyview High School graduate double-majored in biology and Spanish, which involved plenty of lab and research projects. 

But somehow he also found time to be involved in student organizations, events and community service while simultaneously holding down a job at a local market.

“He consistently goes above and beyond all expectations,” said the Rev. Kim Woeste, director of United Campus Ministry at MSU Billings and staff advisor for the university’s Circle K service organization.  “He generates enthusiasm in others and is respected for his passion, reliability and consistent involvement.”

A picture of that involvement can be seen in a laundry list of activities:

  • Senator-at-large for the Associated Students of MSU Billings
  • Circle K president from 2008 to 2010, including a stint as the State Governor for the organization this past year
  • Billings Catholic Campus Ministry
  • Student United Way
  • Intramural soccer
  • MSU Billings Ballroom Dance Club instructor
  • Undergraduate/Graduate Research Committee
  • Creative and Research Endeavors Committee
  • Canstruction team to benefit the Billings Food Bank
  • Spanish Conversation Group facilitator
  • A host of volunteer work at the Women and Children’s Shelter, St. Vincent Healthcare, the HUB shelter for mentally ill homeless and Friendship House

All that community involvement and his academic record (he will finish college with a 3.59 GPA) earned Sullivan one of two Outstanding Senior Awards for MSU Billings this year. The award recognizes students for academic achievement and service to the university and community.

As he walks the hallways at the Student Union Building or moves from classroom to lab at the Science Building, Sullivan has to constantly stop and visit with friends. Everyone seems to know him and wants a sliver of his time.

It’s that family-like feeling that made him appreciate his time at MSU Billings, he said.

“MSU Billings was close to home and the size of the campus allowed me to acclimate to college life,” he said, noting he had considered transferring after a year or two. “After taking several classes, I liked the atmosphere here. I really liked the small class sizes. It really makes it more personable.”

His connection to the Kiwanis family of organizations (Key Club in high school and Circle K in college) showed him how involved he could be in college once he set his mind to it. And the faculty and staff at MSU Billings offered ample encouragement.

“At larger colleges you can still get involved, but it’s hard to find your niche,” he said. “That wasn’t the case here.” 

While he said he is looking forward to a nice vacation away from his academic pursuits this summer, he is not stepping away from service work. In May he travels to Guatemala where he will work with Circle K and Key Club students at an orphanage. In June he starts work as an intern at a clinic in Costa Rica.

Soft-spoken and easy with a smile, Sullivan shies away from basking in the accolades of others. Instead, he prefers to think about how he can work to serve other people, especially those in need.

Setting his sights on medical school, he said he eventually wants to work in general practice “somewhere on the West Coast.”

“With my Spanish degree, I can help with a lot of underserved populations,” he said, but noted he would not hesitate to get involved in the International Red Cross or the group Doctors Without Borders so that he could help others in need.

A full plate in front of him, Sullivan said he won’t forget the passion of his professors or of the connection to his peers.

“Some of my best memories are pulling all-nighters with my friends while studying for exams,” he said, then quickly added he appreciated making a variety of lasting connections in college.

“I don’t regret a thing.”

PHOTO ABOVE: Thomas Sullivan, who will receive two degrees from MSU Billings next week — biology and Spanish — has had a busy career as a student. That will continue when he leaves this summer, volunteering time in an orphanage in Guatemala and doing an internship at a clinic in Costa Rica.

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