Campus News

UK’s 2023 Sullivan Award winners embody spirit of love, helpfulness to others


LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 25, 2023) — Two University of Kentucky students and one local citizen have received UK’s highest honor for humanitarian efforts — the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award.

The Sullivan Award was established by the New York Southern Society in 1925 and was named in honor of its first president, Algernon Sydney Sullivan. Sullivan was a prominent businessman and philanthropist who was highly regarded as one who “reached out with both hands in constant helpfulness” to others. The Sullivan Award recognizes those “who exhibit Sullivan’s ideals of heart, mind, and conduct as evince a spirit of love for and helpfulness to other men and women.”

At UK, the Sullivan Award is bestowed each year on two graduating seniors and one citizen who has a connection to the university. This year’s Sullivan Award student winners are Alex Degen and Jessica Lamb. Christine Smith is the citizen’s award recipient.

Alex Degen

Degen, of Readington Township, New Jersey, will graduate this May with a graduate certificate in nonprofit management from the Martin School of Public Policy and an undergraduate certificate in financial planning from the Gatton College of Business and Economics. He earned a BA degree in social work in 2021 from the College of Social Work and a BS in business administration in 2022 from the Gatton College of Business and Economics.

Degen is recognized for both his academic and athletic accomplishments as pitcher for UK’s baseball team, the Bat Cats, which most notably include the SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll (2019), First-Team All-Coastal Plain League (2019), Dean’s List (Spring 2020), SEC Academic Honor Roll (2020, 2021, 2022), SEC Community Service Team (2020, 2021), 2021 UK Athletics Frank G. Ham Society of Character Inductee, SEC Academic Honor Roll (2022), and Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) 2022-2023.

Recently, Degen was nominated by the SEC for their Brad Davis Award, an award that recognizes the outstanding and meritorious service achievements of one male and one female student-athlete from each institution during his or her entire college career. After two people have been nominated from each school, the SEC then decides on one female and one male from the entire 28 (14 male and 14 female) people who were selected. These two people will be honored as the SEC Male and Female Community Leaders of the Year at the SEC Conference in Destin, Florida every summer. The award each year is given in the form of a certificate of merit noting the student-athlete’s accomplishments and a postgraduate scholarship to be used beyond the baccalaureate degree for pursuit of a graduate or professional degree.

In addition to his numerous academic and athletic achievements, Degen’s passion for faith and service to others takes high priority in his life. Degen credits his parents as role models and instilling in him a heart for giving back to the community.

Degen began volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House of the Bluegrass his first year at UK. He has also served at other local non-profits such as Gods’ Pantry and the Miracle League, and has mentored children from local elementary schools regularly. Degen’s’ impact reaches far beyond the organizations he serves. His leadership has encouraged many of his peers to get involved in the community, creating a culture of servant leadership among UKs’ student-athlete population.

Degen says one of his greatest opportunities as a student-athlete is through UK’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Through a partner platform, SCORE International, he was able to participate in a trip to the Dominican Republic He said this trip was a powerful way for him to combine his passion for baseball and serving in a community where baseball is a driving force. He traveled to different cities and baseball fields and went into villages inviting children to baseball camps organized by the FCA.

“Through the FCA platform, I’ve been able to guest speak and teach at over 50 different schools and small groups in Lexington and surrounding counties and have also individually led middle school and high school FCA small groups on a regular basis,” Degen said. “Leading these small groups and speaking to the youth has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.”

Degen is considering his career options once he leaves UK. He also plans to take online MBA courses at Cedarville University outside Dayton, Ohio.

Jessica Lamb

Lamb, of Garrard County, Kentucky, will graduate this May with a BS in agricultural and medical biotechnology from the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment (CAFE).

During Lamb’s years at UK, she has proven herself to have exceptional academic abilities and an inquisitive mind. In March 2020, Lamb was accepted into the Appalachian Career Training in Oncology (ACTION) Program within the UK Markey Cancer Center. ACTION is focused on providing cancer research and clinical observation experience, cancer education and outreach opportunities to UK undergraduate and high school students who are natives of Appalachian regions of Kentucky. Lamb has seen firsthand how various disparities in the region impact residents’ health. 

Lamb has had significant outcomes as the result of her participation in ACTION and has presented her research at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s 2022 annual meeting in Philadelphia, and the American Association for Cancer Research’s 2022 annual meeting in New Orleans. She is a coauthor on multiple peer-reviewed publications from this work that will be published in the near future. She is also an author of one of the essays in the 2nd edition of “The Cancer Crisis in Appalachia Kentucky Students Take ACTION.”

Lamb has received many awards and scholarships, including the Otis A. Singletary Professional Fellowship, William K. Sharp Family Scholarship (awarded three years in a row), and Bill Gatton College of Medicine Scholarship award. She was also awarded the Jo Anne J. Trow National Scholarship and Dr. Margaret Berry Graduate Fellowship, which were awarded by Alpha Lambda Delta International Honor Society. Other accolades include the Lewis Honors College Upper-Level Admission Scholarship and the UK Academic Excellence Scholarship. Lamb was also awarded multiple scholarships for her research on lung adenocarcinoma, including the CAFE Undergraduate Research Award and American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 2022 Student Chapter Travel Award.

Lamb is also passionate about service, which stems from a personal place in her life. At the age of three, she was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) — a neuromuscular disease that progressively destroys motor neurons, causing progressive muscle weakness. At the time there were no approved treatments for SMA and she wasn’t given a very hopeful future outcome. She and her parents decided to enroll her in a clinical trial at Ohio State University, testing potential drugs for treatment. Out of 23 participants, she was one of the two who responded positively. She remained on the medication for eight years. In 2016, the FDA approved the first official treatment for SMA. Lamb was the first person in Kentucky to receive the medication.

“I swore to myself that I would do whatever it took, learn as much as I could, and eventually I would advocate for others in a way that I wish someone had for me,” Lamb said. “My life’s purpose is to use my experiences to fuel a passion and devotedness that will drive me to continue tirelessly fighting and advocating for the SMA community, along with other communities who share similar struggles. This realization led me to pursue a career as a physician and participate in extracurriculars that support my mission.”

Examples of Lamb’s service include her heavy involvement in UK’s campus chapter of Alpha Lambda Delta International Honor Society. She has been the student president (2020-21), junior advisor (2021-22) and senior advisor (2022-23). However, her major service interest lies in activities related to SMA. She has dedicated herself to raising awareness related to this disease and funding that supports both patient care and research that could establish new treatments for the disease. In 2016, Lamb founded a nonprofit initiative called Blow Away SMA Fundraiser. She has participated in regional and national fundraising activities, including activities organized by the national organization Cure SMA — a nonprofit that provides support to patients and families affected by SMA and directs leading research towards a cure.

Christine Smith

Christine Smith graduated from Syracuse University in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in geography and international relations. In 2010 she completed a master's degree in geography at the UK College of Arts and Sciences with a graduate certificate in social theory; and in 2015 successfully defended a doctorate degree in geography.

She is currently the executive director of Seedleaf, a community gardening organization based in Lexington that provides horticultural training for children and adults and supports the practice of gardening and small-scale farming

Seedleaf serves North Lexington neighborhoods by stewarding 11 gardens that are open to the public for volunteering and for harvesting nutritious food. Seedleaf also stewards 32 acres of farmland that supports its Market Gardener Program which equips interested growers with education, tools, land and market outlets to sell their own produce.

Smith’s community philosophy is informed by her time growing up in Florida as the daughter of Jamaican immigrants and through her graduate research conducted while at Kentucky.

“Gardens save lives, and I work as executive director of Seedleaf because I believe this to be true,” Smith said. “I have found that gardening allows one to become grounded in the cycle of the seasons while also stepping out of time and space into a world of hope and, with it, unrealized potential and possibility. As an advocate for gardening and for nourishing communities through growing and sharing food, I understand my work is also in proselytizing about how soil and spaces deemed to be lost are the very spaces where hope, beauty and regeneration reside.”

Smith’s work as a gardener has led her to other forms of community cultivation. She is a board member of the Good Foods Co-op, a founder of Climate Conversations and a former steering committee member of Patchwork Cooperative Loan Fund

Smith has authored and co-authored multiple publications on social and cultural geography, anthropology and politics. She served as visiting assistant professor in 2016-17 at Bucknell University in the Department of International Relations. She was also postdoctoral lecturer in 2015-16 at UK in the Department of Geography, and a graduate teaching assistant from 2010-2016 in the Department of Geography.

When Smith is not gardening with Seedleaf or working on all the behind-the scenes tasks that make gardening happen for neighbors, she is a home gardener and a self-described “squirrel shooer.”

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.