T.J Sullivan Engages and Motivates ACUHO-I


MOTIVATE: TJ Sullivan, Keynote Speaker at ACUHO-I

TJ Sullivan

Image from www.campusspeak.com

T.J Sullivan opened his ACUHO-I keynote address with an anecdote about being an R.A applicant. “I had to pull a random object from a bag and say how I would use it for an educational program,” he said. “I pulled out a toothbrush and suggested a program about… dental hygiene.” After being outdone by an applicant who suggested painting a community mural about diversity with the toothbrush, Sullivan was not hired or even waitlisted! He joked that this conference could become his ‘revenge fantasy’. Though most of the audience was left in stitches, Sullivan’s motivating presentation proved the microphone suited him much better than the toothbrush.

Sullivan is a valued voice in the world of student affairs and residence life. After graduating Indiana University, he co-founded CampusSpeak and now presents at roughly 50 campuses and conferences a year. Follow TJ on Twitter @intentionalTJS. 

Today, Sullivan spoke of engagement. “Different levels of engagement,” he began, “can be found in any community; in your neighborhood, in society, and of course, on your campus.” Like the neighbors who keep their lawns immaculate, those who have a few projects here and there, and those who are just apathetic, people all have different engagement ‘identities’. Sullivan offered three categories:


As the audience laughed, Sullivan let out a sigh of relief. “That was my risk joke,” he admitted, “..so glad you laughed at that.”

Top Third students value validation and dislike apathy. He ribbed that since they are always busy and seeking opportunities and awards, some might best be described as… ‘#ribbonsluts’. 

Middle third students dislike disorganization and negativity, favoring balance and relationships. They are very hard workers but often function in the background.

Bottom Third students like to complain and challenge things. “These are the students who a professor never sees or hears from until the end of the semester when they argue their poor grade.” Though seemingly apathetic, Sullivan noted these students were just as important to motivate.

Sullivan emphasized, “It is a very ‘Top-Third’ mistake to think your motivation is everyone else’s motivation.” The value in acknowledging different levels of engagement, for an administrator, is to recognize that not all three can be motivated by the same strategies and incentives. Each group has their own perspective on what makes effort valuable, and therefore requires a certain type of stimulus to spark their self-motivation.

“Lead, motivate, influence, and impact from where they are,” – @intentionalTJS

TJ Sullivan’s message was a perfect segway into the conference programming that would follow. The opening ceremonies celebrated leaders and encouraged a new generation who will lead, impact and motivate. The weekend’s programs and presentations would allow attendees to share the impact of specific programs/strategies on their campuses, in hopes that peers might adapt them to their own learning communities.

The University of Pittsburgh’s presentation of their Non-Alcoholic Mix Off, which earned the Program of the Year Award, was an impacting example. Let it impact YOU here.


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Gary Kehoe

Gary Kehoe

College life is the good life. Hey, I'm Gary Kehoe. I'm fresh out of college, but still haven't left. In fact, one of the great things about being with OCM is that I get to go to even MORE colleges- AND, I don't have to take any finals 🙂 One of the most important lessons I learned from college was that no opportunity should be left unexplored. In my four years, I wrote for the TCNJ Signal newspaper, was president of our Rowing team, and interned in the Dean of Students' Office. There are lessons everywhere: do’s, don’ts, did’s, and ‘wish ya didn’ts”. Whether you are an applicant, current student, or a new member of the so called 'real world', I hope you can find and share the good in college life.”