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Week of November 15, 2010

Graduate student coordinator shares love of horses

The old saying that you have to get back on the horse after a fall is something that Jane Sullivan knows firsthand.

Eight years ago Sullivan was thrown from her horse and hospitalized for six days. She took a few years off and slowly worked her way back to riding indoors, but refrained from leaving the safety of the ring.

Last spring, however, everything changed when Sullivan climbed on her new horse Jimmy and took him outdoors to canter. It was then that she realized she had overcome her fears.

Sullivan, a graduate student coordinator in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, credits a strong trust in her horse for her accomplishment. She builds on this by riding Jimmy three to four times weekly, and taking lessons once a week with her trainer in Grass Lake. Owning and competing with a horse takes a great deal of time for practice, preparation and grooming, but Sullivan considers it time well spent.

Photo courtesy Jane Sullivan.

“It’s like being transported to a different world and I love having that refuge,” she says.

Sullivan has worked at U-M for four years. The first year and a half she was the senior secretary of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, but when a graduate student coordinator position opened up she took it. She works with doctoral students and oversees various aspects of their education, including making sure they are funded and receive benefits.

Sullivan also serves as a liaison between students and the various university offices like the Registrar and Rackham that oversee their graduate work. With the help of committees, she tracks student progress and the overall success of the program. Sullivan’s role includes advising the students who come to her with both personal and academic concerns that she helps them navigate.

“Assisting students with working through the complex decisions that define their graduate careers is often the most rewarding aspect of my role as graduate coordinator,” Sullivan says.

Sullivan has loved horses since she was 6 years old, following a visit to her uncle’s farm. She has ridden horses on and off since high school, but began riding more regularly and competing in horse shows the last five years. She currently competes regionally on the American Quarter Horse Association circuit and attends horse shows about every six weeks, competing more frequently since she bought Jimmy two years ago.

These competitions take place over weekends, and usually last two or three days at a time. Because various categories of events run from morning to evening, Sullivan says there is a lot of anticipation waiting to participate in the next event or hear results from the previous one. These weekends were very taxing for Sullivan when she began competing, but with time and the support of riding mates like her sister she has come to enjoy showing and the opportunity for personal growth it has provided.

Sullivan has lived in Ann Arbor for her entire life, and currently lives on the west side with her husband and her pets. She loves animals, and in addition to her horse, she owns two dogs, two finches and two frogs.

Having grown up in Ann Arbor, Sullivan went to Pioneer High School and is an alumna of U-M, where she earned her undergraduate degree and master’s degree in English.

“I always thought it would be a great place to work, and for me it’s turned out to be the case,” Sullivan says of U-M. “I like the people that it brings me into contact with and it gives me back a little of what I had in the intellectual stimulation and the contact with the sort of people that I had when I was in school here, which I love.”

The weekly Spotlight features staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at



Jane Sullivan, graduate student coordinator in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, on working at her alma mater:“I always thought it would be a great place to work, and for me it’s turned out to be the case.”


Artist Wangechi Mutu’s lecture “My Dirty Little Heaven,” 5-6:30 p.m. Nov. 18 in the Michigan Theater.

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