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A Love for Language: Mike Sullivan ‘09

Posted on Dec 18, 2012

Mike Sullivan, a 2009 university alum, is nearing the completion of his doctoral program in Linguistics, studying the language of the Ojibwe people.

Crediting UW-Superior

After completing his degree in Sociology at UW-Superior, Mike Sullivan went on to attend graduate school for his PhD at the University of Minnesota. Though he is now flourishing in his studies at graduate school, Sullivan certainly did not contemplate that his life would lead him in the direction it has. "I never in a million years would have thought it would be possible that I would ever go to graduate school, let alone have as much success as I have had. It was through UWS that I was prepared to take my education to the next level and succeed and thrive on a much higher level."  UW-Superior receives much praise for directing Sullivan along the path to extend his education further.

To help him along his road to success, Sullivan received help from the McNair's Scholarship Program at Superior. Though he certainly could have made the transition to grad school on his own, Sullivan was grateful for the guidance that the program provided for him. He acknowledges that the program gave him step by step directions in the pursuit of his doctoral degree. "From GRE prep to school searches, UWS's McNair Program made going to graduate school a feasible reality." Sullivan feels that the university truly did prepare him for what he was faced with in graduate school.

UW-Superior also served as a catalyst to helping Sullivan learn more about what is happening in the world. "It was through UWS that I not only gained the skills to survive in graduate school, but where I became aware of bigger issues and problems within not only the mainstream American society, but in our tribal community as well." This cognizance is important in many aspects of life, not just within education. Superior was able to help Sullivan to build his base on worldly events as well as his awareness for matters within the local community.  

Graduate Studies

Because of his own personal heritage, Sullivan decided to pursue his studies of the Ojibwe language at the University of Minnesota. As a part of his education, he regularly meets with people who are fluent in the language in order for him to improve his own skills in both speaking and comprehension, while at the same time further broadening his knowledge of the culture.

Since he began his work, Sullivan has taken some opportunities to build on his research and expand his range working with the language. He made the decision to co-author a children's book that was written entirely in the Ojibwe language, and it received literary honors. Along with writing the book, he also has been a frequent contributor to The Ojibwe People's Dictionary, providing various forms of literature to the collection. His talents were also used in helping to translate for the movie First Speakers.

Sullivan's drive to study the language in depth has also led him to examine the numerous differences of the diction first-hand. This means that he trekked throughout the territory of the Ojibwe and worked on figuring out the ways in which the language varied in the different regions.

Life at UMN

Even with a passion for the subject matter, completing graduate school is no easy feat. Working as a teaching and research assistant and going to classes as a student, Sullivan does not have much time to spare for anything other than his studies. Three days of his week are spent attending his classes, requiring him to read anywhere from 300-400 pages a night for his coursework, and he also meets for advisement purposes at least two times within a week. In order to continue to practice the language and build on his fluency, Sullivan dedicates his time to teaching two separate classes in the Minneapolis area to members of the community, he is a teaching assistant for a linguistics class at the college, and he also manages to find the time to volunteer at a language immersion school in his hometown.

Approaching a New Commencement

As he nears the end of his graduate studies, Sullivan will soon be preparing to take his oral exams in the spring. He has already been offered a teaching position as Assistant Professor of Ojibwe at the College of St.Scholastica. Happily accepting the job, Sullivan is preparing himself to begin working at the college in the upcoming fall and begin a new chapter in his life.

Some advice that Sullivan wants people to hear can be applied to almost any walk of life. He says, "Work hard and pay attention. Make your mark. Strive to make your family and your people proud." Sullivan has certainly worked hard to make his mark, and there is no doubt that he will continue doing so even after his graduation.

Mike Sullivan was interviewed as a part of the Career Services Day in the Life project. His full interview and those of other UW-Superior alumni can be found on the Day in the Life website,

Interview conducted by Kristen Jasperson onNovember 8, 2012. Article written by Kristen Jasperson.

News Contact: Shannon Gilligan | 715-394-8026 | sgillig1{atuws}
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