Campbell’s partnership with the Sullivan Foundation is geared toward developing the University’s expertise in serving rural and micropolitan communities in the American South.  Our Sociology 251, 351, and 451 suite of classes are the foundation of this collaboration.  Additionally, the School of Business offers a Social Entrepreneurship minor, and other related classes and programs are being identified to add to our catalog of expertise in this area.

Dr. Justin Nelson, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Campbell, is a community sociologist who is fascinated with studying the culture, history, and development of communities. Rural America and small towns have changed quite a bit in the last decade, and North Carolina specifically has the second largest rural population of any state in the country. As a result, Dr. Nelson believes that it is important to ask questions about how life in these areas has changed and what it will look like in the future, especially since so many of the students at Campbell come from rural communities and want to go back to work in them.

SOCI 251 is the first in the Community Leadership and Engagement courses at Campbell. It is designed to teach students that understanding a place requires work and listening to the people who live there. Data can reveal a lot of information, but the best way to get to know a community is through hearing the stories of the people who live there. This course helps to give students the cultural capacity to better understand the communities in which they will live, work, and serve. It is this understanding of and appreciation for a community that we must have before we can attempt to change it or make improvements. 

Through this course, students have the opportunity to complete a semester-long study of a small town of their choice. This includes: 

  • Applying theories in community sociology, such as the community capitals approach 
  • Conducting interviews with local residents and leaders 
  • Exploring data from sources like the U.S. Census Bureau 
  • Applying their professional interests – whether it be teaching, entrepreneurship, healthcare, engineering, or something else 

“SOCI 251 made me aware of the issues in rural and underserved areas as well as the agency I have in helping individuals in those communities. I was given the tools to put ideas into motion and utilize my existing skills to make a difference. This course has helped me become a better student, community member, and helper, and I’m most thankful for this course during my time at Campbell University.”

~ Carolina Rosado, Class of 2019

After teaching courses on leadership for years, Dr. Laura Lunsford was recruited by Dr. Nelson to teach the second installment of the Community Leadership and Engagement Courses. She became interested in rural and underserved communities after coming to Campbell, and got to combine this interest with her experience teaching leadership in this course, Leading Underserved Communities. 

This course is designed to give students a greater appreciation that leadership is bigger than just a person, to teach them how to motivate followers and understand the constraints of environments, and to further their skills to become a leader in their own community. Focusing on developing service and character, this course highlights the importance of each student’s character strengths by including a number of self-awareness inventories, and encourages students to view community leadership as a public service. 

As a part of this course, students: 

  • Take a number of self-awareness inventories and assess the results 
  • Interview leaders, such as government officials or experts in a field, and expand their personal network 
  • Develop their own leadership case on a topic of their interest. Recent topics include Native American leaders, the closing of rural hospitals, and population changes due to in- and out-migration in rural communities. 


“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Leading Underserved Communities course with Dr. Lunsford. I have learned about not only leadership theory in an academic sense but also in terms of personal development as well. I’ve particularly appreciated learning about the Psychology of Small Wins, which examines how those gradual changes that are implemented should be celebrated as they will ultimately make the grand change you are seeking. Throughout the semester, I have seen how the material we speak about in class translates to everyday life, and I’m thankful to have taken this course.” 

~ Lori Kaitlyn Babb, Sullivan Ambassador 

Starting in the Summer of 2020, Dr. Justin Nelson will be teaching the third and final course in the Community Leadership and Engagement courses. The course will provide an overview of the theories of social change and civic engagement, building on everything learned in previous classes, and will discuss social capital, social change, and social movements as they relate to civic renewal. Students will then have the opportunity to apply what they have learned throughout the three courses in a class action research project designed to engage them in community partnerships to address community-level social issues. This project will enable them to serve their local communities, position themselves as community leaders, and serve as mentors to others with respect to community engagement.

Taught by Scott Kelly, Instructor of Business and Entrepreneurship Coordinator in the Lundy-Fetterman School of Business, this course focuses on inspiring students to learn more about social entrepreneurship. He believes that all of us have latent energy that is waiting to be harnessed to meet the needs of our communities, and that social entrepreneurship can be the spark that starts the process. They will be working closely with Raleigh Founded Entrepreneurial Community throughout the semester to identify and tackle social problems.

Taught by Dr. Dean Farmer, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication Studies, COMM 430 is a course that encourages students to look beyond themselves and pay attention to the needs of their communities. Dr. Farmer has been interested in looking at how the disadvantaged in our society can improve their destinies, and believes that communication strategies can provide answers to these conditions.

This course is designed to help students develop a broader perspective and develop an appreciation for cultural differences. Factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, and geography all play a key role in influencing how we communicate self and relate with others, which is vital to making a positive change in one’s community. 


As a result of this course, students have gotten to select a project of their choice. They have looked at topics such as:

  • Working with migrant children’s struggles in developing co-cultural identities
  •  Looking at the possible application of Liberating Structures in cross-cultural dialogue between students in the United States and students in the Middle East.
  • Racial reconciliation in the rural south through community gardening. 

“The Cross Cultural Communication course has allowed me to understand not only the things that our culture shares with others, but how to respect and honor various cultural differences. Through course readings and in-class discussion, I found it was easier to understand and connect with those in my community, both at Campbell and in other aspects of my life. The course honored the individuality and worth of all people and cultures, and I feel fortunate to have been a part of the class!” 

~ Leah Tripp, Class of 2020

Taught by Dr. Dean Farmer, Associate Professor and Chair of the Communication Studies Department, COMM 541 is a course that encourages students to look at the needs of their community along with the unique strengths and opportunities that lie within it. Dr. Farmer has been interested in looking at how the disadvantaged in our society can improve their destinies, and in this course, teaches his students communication strategies that equip them to make positive social change.

This course is designed to show students that change is necessary and that they can play a role in it. By looking at constructs such as Positive Deviance, Liberating Structures, and the Diffusion of Innovations, students learn about effective ways to implement change, often in innovative and creative ways. 

As a part of this course, students select a research project on the topic of their choice. Recent topics include: 

  • Identifying structural barriers limiting the growth and impact of the Campus Kitchen at Campbell University
  • Introducing Liberating Structures to rural decision-making and planning groups
  • Positive Deviance among rural entrepreneurs who resist falling victim to poverty and Opioid addiction spirals common in rural areas of eastern North Carolina. 

“COMM-541, better known as “Communication and Social Change,” has provided me and my fellow classmates with vast amounts of resources needed to understand what positive change can look like and how we can potentially enact that change ourselves. Through our research and studies, we gain not only this new understanding, but also discover a new role for our lives that we may not have seen before. This class shows us that everyday heroes are people just like us; normal people who saw a need in the world and decided to do everything they could to make a difference.” 

~ Amber Merklinger, Sullivan Student Ambassador and Student Docent