News & Press: General News

CSHRM Foundation Academic Scholarship: Christine Sullivan-Vacca

Wednesday, August 21, 2019  
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CSHRM Foundation Academic Scholarship: Christine Sullivan-Vacca
By Amber F. Mirza, MSHRD, PHR

Amber Mirza, Communications Committee Member and Newsletter Content Contributor, had the opportunity to sit down with Christine Sullivan-Vacca, a previous recipient of the CSHRM Foundation Academic Scholarship. Read on to learn about Christine’s story and experience! 

Christine Sullivan-Vacca is currently the Director of HR for Pinnacle Construction. Pinnacle Construction is a Cleveland-based federal general contractor that works on federal construction projects. Locally, they have worked on several projects at NASA, who is their biggest client as well as the Wright Patterson Air Force base in Dayton, OH. Pinnacle Construction has also done projects outside of Cleveland, including projects for SelfRidge Air National Guard Base and Detroit Arsenal, both in Detroit, Michigan.  

On top of serving as the Director of HR for Pinnacle Construction, Sullivan-Vacca is also pursuing a double major of HR Management and Organizational Leadership at Baldwin Wallace University. Last year, Sullivan-Vacca was granted the CSHRM Foundation’s Academic Scholarship, which she has found to be very beneficial.  She stated, “For summer, [the scholarship] paid for one of my summer classes. That’s money I didn’t have to borrow and then pay interest on. It was one less class I have to worry about making sure it’s covered.” 

Sullivan-Vacca has been a CSHRM member since 2010. Due to pursuing her Associate’s degree at the time, she did not have the opportunity to get more involved until 2014. “The first thing I did to get more involved was to volunteer on the Chapter Champion Committee with the Annual Golf Outing. All the committees have fun together and it was nice networking with other professionals. It gave me the opportunity to compare notes, a chance to learn what other people were doing within their companies and talk through challenges. It also gave me the opportunity to make friends,” Sullivan-Vacca explained. 

Through her involvement with CSHRM and the Chapter Champion Committee, Sullivan-Vacca learned about the CSHRM Foundation’s Academic Scholarship. “The interesting thing is that since I am a part-time non-traditional student, there aren’t as many scholarships for students like me. The scholarship gave me an opportunity because I’m paying myself and taking out loans, which isn’t exciting. It’s helped to defray costs and I’m now nearing the last several semesters,” Sullivan-Vacca mentioned. Upon finding out she had won the scholarship, Sullivan-Vacca was thrilled. She recalled, “I was extremely thankful and excited. Any time people recognize the hard work you’re putting in, it’s greatly appreciated. This meant a little more because this is a group I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into. I feel I’ve made great HR connections and friends.”

Balancing the roles of being a professional and a student is no easy task. When asked how she manages the two roles, Sullivan-Vacca replied, “Sometimes I wonder how I do it too. I think organizing myself and making sure I have a realistic calendar. Being proactive and keeping track of all the tasks I have that need to be done.” Organization is key. However, Sullivan-Vacca also pointed out that she has a strong support system as well: “I’m extremely thankful I have an employer that supports my decision to be in school. If not, then one or the other wouldn’t work. My family also supports me and that’s really awesome too. My husband takes ownership of bath time and whatever else so that I have time to study. I think it’s about making sure to have a good support system – I certainly do not do it all by myself.” Sullivan-Vacca mentioned that her mentor encouraged her as well, citing that the best career advice she had ever received was to finish her education. She also added, “On a personal and professional level, it helps to have the HR community backing you as well. They will have different perspectives and can give advice to you.” 

In addition to providing insight on how she manages schoolwork with her professional life, Sullivan-Vacca also provided advice for others. For those considering applying for the CSHRM Foundation’s Academic Scholarship, she stated: “I would encourage them to get involved with CSHRM – definitely involvement before applying really is more helpful so that they understand what CSHRM is about and what it offers.” For those trying to break into the HR field, Sullivan-Vacca revealed what her own experience has been. She emphasized, “Building a network is where they need to start. Being in CSHRM has helped me to find connections who have been helpful in helping me flourish in my HR role. Building a network is step one – there are so many functions within HR; until you’re aware of the pieces, you don’t know where your focus will be or where that connection can be for you.” 

Sullivan-Vacca is naturally passionate about the importance of education. In fact, she recalled encouraging Seeds of Literacy, a non-profit organization, to apply for another of CSHRM Foundation’s initiatives, which is the Non-Profit Partner. Along with supporting HR professionals pursuing higher education, the CSHRM Foundation also conducts various fundraising efforts every year. The money raised benefits a local non-profit organization which has been selected as the Non-Profit Partner for the year. Sullivan-Vacca mentioned, “I was very impressed with what Seeds of Literacy does for those who don’t have that level of education or have that level of opportunity in the workplace. I encouraged them to apply. They didn’t get it the first time, but they did get it the second year they applied, and I was very excited for that.”

If you are interested in applying or learning more about CSHRM Foundation’s Academic Scholarship and Non-Profit Partner applications, please visit: ClevelandSHRM.com. Deadline to apply is September 30, 2019.