River Pointe apartments now boasts a Fulbright scholar

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Dylan Sullivan, 23, of Riverhead will be heading to Estonia in August to study as a Fulbright scholar.

When the River Pointe Apartments on East Main Street is referenced in the news, its usually due to recurrent crime at the federally subsidized housing community. But 23-year-old graphic artist Dylan Sullivan, who has lived in the apartment complex his entire life, is sure to bring some pride to the neighborhood.

Mr. Sullivan, who graduated from SUNY/Farmingdale in December 2010, will embark on a year-long trip to Estonia this August through the prestigious Fulbright Scholar Program. There he will pursue a master’s degree in fine arts at the Estonian Academy of Art in Tallinn, the country’s capital city.

There is no set dollar amount associated with the award, but Mr. Sullivan’s housing, tuition and travel expenses will be paid for through the federally funded Fulbright program. He will likely re-apply for the award to finance his second year of graduate school.

The program, which has had nearly 300,000 participants both domestic and abroad since its inception, was established by then-Senator J. William Fulbright shortly after World War II as a way to cement relations with European countries. The program awards about 7,500 grants annually, according to its website.

Despite his success in early adulthood, growing up in a subsidized housing community carries with it unique challenges, Mr. Sullivan is quick to admit. After all, a scan of the town police log shows that officers are frequently called to River Pointe for calls ranging from drug arrests to assaults to domestic disturbances. Two homicides occurred in the community in the past three years alone.

“I did see the paths that some of my friends were taking,” said Mr. Sullivan who lives in a three-bedroom apartment with his mother, Mary Rodriguez, and brothers Miguel and Gabriel. “I chose to disconnect myself.”

When Mr. Sullivan was a child, his uncle Stephen Griel, who has since died, paid for him to attend Leonard E. Burkett Christian School in Center Moriches, from which he graduated in 2005. Though he later thrived at the tiny private school after transferring from Riverhead public schools, the transition was not easy, he said.

One day the principal pulled Mr. Sullivan aside to help him understand the chance he was given to improve his circumstances. The talk hit a nerve.

“Because of that, I knew I had to do well,” he said. “I can’t expect to mulligan everything.”

He later found his calling while studying art and visual communications at Eastern Suffolk BOCES during his senior year of high school.

When asked about other hobbies, he said he has virtually no time to invest in anything else.

“You need to indulge yourself in this field,” he said

During his senior year at SUNY/Farmingdale, where he was president of the art club, Mr. Sullivan received an email from Beverly Kahn, the professor who coaches SUNY/Farmingdale students during the Fulbright application process. Dr. Kahn encourages all seniors with a GPA of 3.2 or higher to consider applying for the award.

“I can tell you from experience it changes their lives forever,” she said. “It opens up a whole new world they have never expected to encounter.”

Dr. Kahn, who has received two Fulbright awards herself, noted it is the most prestigious scholarship awarded by the federal government. Mr. Sullivan is only the second student at SUNY/Farmingdale to receive the award.

Mr. Sullivan is also involved in the Riverhead community. He has volunteered his services to East End Arts Council as has worked for the Riverhead Business Improvement District. He and his friend Rob Vanderhoff also operate the graphic design firm, Dedication Graphics. He has been an intern at Embroid Me, a store that does custom embroidery and screen printing, on East Main Street since March.

Mary Rodriguez, said she isn’t too surprised by her son’s success. And she said she doesn’t worry about her son being lonely in a foreign country.

“He’s like the mayor wherever he goes,” she said.

Mr. Sullivan will surely miss his family and friends as he leaves his hometown for so long for the first time, but he knows it is something he has to do.

“I can’t let something be a what if,” he said.

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