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Marquette University Alumni Association

College of Health Sciences Recipients

Distinguished Alumna of the Year Award

Katherine J. Sullivan


Pasadena, Calif.

How does the brain respond and recover from injury?

Dr. Katherine J. Sullivan wanted to know the answer. In fact, finding the answer has become a life-long commitment — from her baccalaureate education in physical therapy from Marquette followed by her early career in neurorehabilitation to graduate and post-graduate studies in neuroscience to her faculty position at the University of Southern California.

At USC, Kathy is an associate professor of clinical physical therapy in the Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy at the Ostrow School of Dentistry and a faculty fellow in the Center for Excellence in Teaching, housed in the Office of the Provost.

“When I teach, I don’t try to change (students') perspectives,” she says. “I try to provide new perspectives that may allow them to challenge their own thinking.”

Kathy is an internationally and nationally recognized expert in post-stroke brain damage, including recognition as a fellow of the American Heart Association–Stroke Council for her service, education and research that has advanced our understanding of the science and practice of stroke recovery. She is one of the principal investigators of the Locomotor Experience Applied Post Stroke (LEAPS) multisite clinical trial of rehabilitation interventions funded by the National Institutes of Health. She is a recipient of several awards for her contributions to the field.

But she doesn’t define her success by awards and titles. Success, according to Kathy, “is when you can get up every morning, look yourself in the mirror, and know that each day you tried to do your best and to act with honesty and integrity.”

After a career that spans more than 30 years, her greatest concern is the widening gap between those that do or do not get adequate medical, dental or rehabilitation care. “Health advocacy needs to come from those of us in health sciences and professional practice," she says. “We have strong evidence that preventive and wellness care is effective. Now we need to translate that evidence to a transformed health system where access to basic preventive and wellness care is provided to all.”

Recently, Kathy partnered with colleagues from the university and community leaders to develop a wellness center that specializes in health promotion, basic medical and dental care, and health care workforce development within the most underserved local neighborhood in Los Angeles.

Fun facts about Kathy:
Hometown: Pasadena, Calif.
Favorite quote: “Never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world. They are in fact they only ones that ever have.” — Margaret Mead
Someone alive or dead she’d like to have dinner with: Hilary Clinton
The Marquette faculty member who had an impact on Kathy: Dr. Larry Pan
Favorite Marquette memory: Walking down Wisconsin Avenue after Al McGuire’s 1977 basketball team won the NCAA championship.
In grade school, Kathy wanted to be a physical therapist and work with people in wheelchairs.
Most influential person in her life: Her father