Karen Sullards ’72, ’75 has been a familiar face at alumni and special events at the University of Central Arkansas for many years, particularly tailgates. More than that, other faces are familiar to her.
Sullards is known for being able to recognize individuals by name without looking at check-in lists or referring to others for assistance.
“That came from being a school principal,” Sullards said. “I made it a point when I was a principal to try to know everybody, to try to remember their names and be able to talk to them.”
Sullards spent more than 40 years as an Arkansas educator, primarily in the Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD). She began her career in 1972 after completing her Bachelor of Science in Education. She also received a Master of Science in Education in 1975.
Her connection to UCA began much earlier. Sullards’ parents, the late Sybil ’53 and Fletcher Sullards ’55, were both UCA alumni. During her father’s attendance, the family lived on campus in Wingo Hall in a second-floor apartment.
She recalls fond memories of being on campus with her family. She attended the former Irby School on campus and often ate breakfast with her father in the bookstore, which was located in the basement of Old Main. When her father graduated, she also earned her first degree, the Baby of Arts, an honorary degree granted to children of graduating veterans and nontraditional students who had lived on campus.
Through the years, she has often come back to Wingo Hall for various alumni meetings. During one occasion, she found herself looking around the conference room. She told the group, “I think this was where we lived. Actually, it was this conference room that was part of our apartment.”
Her parents also worked in education, as her mother was a counselor and her father was a principal, but Sullards had planned to become an attorney. Her plan changed after her father suggested she work with preschool children to earn extra income for a summer while she was in college.
“So, I worked at Head Start and fell in love with those kids,” Sullards said.
During her career, she has had a number of roles in education: classroom teacher, instructional specialist, assistant principal and principal. She has worked as a school improvement director for the Arkansas Department of Education and as a capacity builder for the Arkansas Leadership Academy, a leadership development provider for teachers and administrators. Even though she has retired at least twice, she has also filled in as a substitute principal and worked as a coach with the leadership academy. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, requests for those short-term roles have decreased, she said.
Sullards won the 2008 Bobby G. Lester Excellence in Education Award for Administration and was recognized as Parent Teacher Association (PTA) Administrator of the Year in 2000 while working in the PCSSD.
Throughout her career, Sullards continued to maintain a close relationship with UCA and the alumni association.
She was elected to her first term on the alumni board in 1985. During this time, her father was serving as the president. In 2003, she was elected to the alumni board and served two consecutive terms. She was elected to the board a third time in 2011 and served as vice president. She has served on several committees, including events and scholarship, and has represented the association on the UCA Foundation Board. Due to her dedicated service, Sullards was recognized with the UCA Alumni Service Award in 2012.
With the current pandemic, Sullards’ pace has begun to slow down, but not her dedication to UCA. She returns to campus for events such as the Windgate Center for Fine and Performing Arts groundbreaking ceremony, as well as other activities.
“I don’t think of myself as a legend because I think of my daddy and mother more as legends,” Sullards said. “I think of myself more of a legacy because they kind of left me a legacy, and it was my job to let that legacy continue.”