A Professor at Duke, Sunshine Hillygus’ Heart Remains with University of Arkansas


sunshine_hillygusAn associate professor of political science at Duke University, Sunshine Hillygus doesn’t hide her passion for the University of Arkansas. Not only is she a member of the Arkansas Alumni Association, but when viewing her personal web page on the Duke University website, she proudly displays her Arkansas pride with mentions of her favorite memories. The 1994 NCAA National Championship win over the Duke Blue Devils and attending the 2000 Cotton Bowl are just two she mentioned. To top it off, she encourages visitors to “click here” to listen to the famous Razorback Hog Call. She and her husband, Joel BA’95, JD’98, even gave their son the middle name of “Dickson” after their love for Fayetteville’s Dickson Street. Needless to say, you can take the girl out of Arkansas but you can’t take the Arkansas out of the girl.

Receiving her bachelor’s degree in 1996 and a master’s degree in 1998, both from the University of Arkansas, Hillygus went on to obtain a PhD in 2003 from Stanford University. Following in the footsteps of her mentors at the University of Arkansas, she began teaching at Harvard University in 2003 as the Frederick S. Danziger associate professor of government and founding director of the Program on Survey Research.

“I just enjoy teaching and identifying those students who are in the graduate program who show motivation. I want to help them take advantage of that,” she said.

Making it her mission to not only teach but serve as a mentor to students, Hillygus remembers her time at the U of A, crediting the U of A faculty and staff for the consistent support she received as a student. A political science major, she remembered the time she spent talking to professors and gathering “the skills necessary to succeed.”

“It is amazing to me now, how generous professors were with time,” she admits. Encouraged to build relationships with faculty members, she realized the key to success was to determine how to stand out, saying, “The University of Arkansas helped me do that.”

Leaving the U of A to attend Stanford, it didn’t take her long to reconnect with U of A alumni in the San Francisco Bay area. “Some of my closest friends are those made from the Arkansas Alumni Association when I moved out to California,” she said. Although experiencing bouts of homesickness, Hillygus knew she was at her “home away from home” because of the shared connections in the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter.

Now settled in Durham, NC, Hillygus is still an advocate for her alma mater. Seeing all types of students come from various universities, she strongly believes that “University of Arkansas students are just as good as students from any other school.”

 It’s been 15 years since she spent life as a student on campus; however, she realizes that when students are a part of the U of A, they often take for granted what it will mean in the future. As an alumna, she admits that “we must help students to have a better experience…we must take on a large role in making sure our students receive a quality experience while on campus.”

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