Making history: Mary Kay Sullivan named first female Board Chair

Making history: Mary Kay Sullivan named first female Board Chair

As the first female Chair of Maryville College’s Board of Directors, Dr. Mary Kay Sullivan is making history.

She admits, though, that the milestone did not initially make an impression on her until someone pointed it out to her.

“The College from its earliest days has such a tradition of inclusiveness that this does not seem that out-of-the ordinary,” Sullivan said, citing the College’s history of welcoming female, African-American and Native American students well ahead of its time. “Maryville College has never been a place of barriers to achievement.”

Sullivan, a Maryville College professor emerita, taught finance and organizational management at the College for 21 years before retiring in 2010. She joined the College’s Board in 2014 and has served on the its Academic Affairs Committee, Investment & Endowment Committee (now the Finance and Investment Committee) and the Executive Committee. She took over as Chair of the College’s governing body on Oct. 27, becoming the 19th person to hold the position in the College’s 197-year history.

“I was delighted — and honored – to be asked to serve on the Maryville College Board of Directors in the first place,” she said, adding that she has a long history – and a deep, strong commitment to the College – that began with her father, James H. Stevenson, who came to the College at the recommendation of his Presbyterian minister in the early 1930s. Sullivan’s father-in-law, Joseph Sullivan, served on the Maryville College Board of Directors from 1959 until 1971.

“My 20-plus years on the faculty and my ‘in-the-trenches’ awareness of the quality education provided to students only strengthened that commitment,” Sullivan said. “Where else do ALL students write a senior thesis and take comprehensive exams in their major? How often are students elsewhere advised in their academic program by a faculty member? And now the College has implemented a unique program, ‘Maryville College Works,’ that enables each student to apply what has been learned in the classroom in an internship or other significant practical experience. It is exciting to be associated with a college that has such high expectations of all students — and that, in community, helps students achieve those expectations.”

When asked to serve as Board Chair, she said she was “quite surprised,” but accepted the role for several reasons.

“First of all, MC has a strong and committed board, individuals with whom I very much enjoy working. I have seen how board members step up to provide appropriate oversight and support for Maryville College; this certainly makes the role of Board Chair much more satisfying,” Sullivan said. “Second, I have a long history with the College, and the opportunity to serve in this way was consonant with my commitment and my values. Finally, I think it is an exciting time to be involved with the College. As we look back on the College’s 200-year history, there are opportunities for the future to build on our mission and our commitment to an excellent education in the nurturing environment that a small college can provide.”

Sullivan earned a bachelor’s degree in romance languages from the University of Arkansas; a master’s degree in Italian language and literature from Bryn Mawr College; and an MBA and Ph.D. in business administration from the University of Tennessee.

She is the author of Study Guide to Finance, published by Prentice-Hall, and has published a number of articles in academic journals and textbooks. She also has served on the editorial boards of two national journals and on the boards of a number of professional and community organizations, including the Foothills Land Conservancy, the Nature Conservancy of Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association and Helen Ross McNabb Center.

As a member of the faculty of Maryville College, she was the Joe D. Eakes Chair of Business. She earned the Outstanding Teacher Award in 1992 and 1997, and she was the runner-up for the award in 2010. During her tenure, she continuously contributed to her field of study by presenting papers at conferences, leading workshops, publishing articles and organizing numerous meetings with leaders in the business world.

Sullivan said she sees the role of the Board Chair as one of “helping the Board and the administration move the College forward.”

“We are starting to think about a new strategic plan, and I see this as an important opportunity to assess the College’s many strengths and build on those,” she said. “Also, there are significant opportunities as we prepare for and celebrate our bicentennial year in 2019.”

Maryville College President Tom Bogart applauded the Board of Directors’ appointment.

“Mary Kay Sullivan is the Board Chair because she is a talented and respected leader with a deep passion for Maryville College,” the president said. “She is also the first woman to hold that position. As we approach our bicentennial in 2019, her appointment is a reminder of Maryville College’s proud history of inclusion dating back to the work of our founder, Isaac Anderson. It is also a reminder to continue to celebrate as new milestones are achieved, and I am confident that, under her leadership, we will continue to ‘do good on the largest possible scale,’ just as our founder intended.”

By Chloe Kennedy, Assistant Director of Communications


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,197.