Sarah Hillyer wants to live in a world filled with freedom of movement, innovative ideas, thoughtful people, and inspiring books, films, and creative media projects that tell the real-life the stories of everyday sporty heroes creating a more just, equitable, and free world.
As an educator and consultant with more than 30 years of experience, she’s worked with the U.S. Department of State, United States Olympic & Paralympic Committees, Islamic Federation of Women’s Sports, National Hockey League, National Basketball Association, PGA of America, Women’s Tennis Association, Google, Procter & Gamble, Saatchi & Saatchi, LA, dozens of National Paralympic & Olympic Committees, (and more) creating programs that use the unique attributes of sport and physical activity to create innovative social movements and promote peace around the world.
In 2011, Hillyer was named the Georgetown University Sport and Peace-building Post-Doctoral Fellow – a fellowship sponsored by HRH King Abdullah II of Jordan. In 2012, she launched the University of Tennessee’s Center for Sport, Peace, & Society housed in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. The Center was recognized by then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton as the sole cooperative partner of the State Department to create a global initiative designed to empower women, girls, and persons with disabilities through sport. Since 2012, Hillyer and her team have worked alongside more than 1,000 women, men, and youth from 80+ countries, impacting tens of thousands. In 2018, ESPN named the center’s partnership initiative with the U.S. Department of State and espnW as the winner of the Stuart Scott Humanitarian Award.
Hillyer received her doctoral degree in the Sociocultural Study of Sports from the University of Tennessee in 2010. She holds a master’s degree in Sport Psychology from Murray State University and a BA in Sports Administration from Liberty University. She was a division I NCAA basketball player at Virginia Tech.
When she’s not using sports to change the world, you can find her spending quality time with family, playing one-on-one basketball with her nephew, or day-dreaming about what the world will look like when everyone realizes their full potential and unleashes their best selves for the sake of all humanity.
Carolyn Spellings, PhD, Chief of Evaluation, Research, and Accountability and Clinical Assistant Professor
Carolyn Spellings is the Chief of Evaluation, Research, and Accountability at the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society and is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. Spellings helps advance the mission and efforts of the Center by providing leadership in the following three areas: development of a CSPS research agenda at the intersection of sport and community development, economic empowerment, and leadership; management of strategic research partnerships and collaborations; and oversight of a research internship program for graduate and undergraduate students. In addition, Spellings leads all monitoring and evaluation efforts for the U.S. Department of State Global Sports Mentoring Program. Spellings has more than 10 years of experience conducing international and cross-cultural research with underserved populations. Spellings earned her PhD from the University of Tennessee in child and family studies in 2009.
Morgan Irish-George, Media and Content Manager
Morgan Irish-George is a media and content manager for the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society. In addition to managing the website and social media presence of the U.S. Department of State’s Global Sports Mentoring Program, Irish-George also serves as a graphic designer and photographer for the Center. She also assists in the monitoring and evaluation process and in distributing small grants to program alumni. She previously worked with the Center as a media contractor and joined as a full-time member in 2019. Irish-George earned a bachelor’s degree in media communications from Asbury University in Kentucky.
Rainey Johns, Program Assistant
Rainey Johns is a program assistant for the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society. In addition to her full-time job as the director of the Versailles-Woodford County Parks and Recreation Department and President of USTA Kentucky, Johns assists with logistics, budgets, and record-keeping. She has worked with Hillyer for more than 20 years, traveling to the Middle East and North Africa to coach softball, soccer, basketball, and adaptive sports. Johns earned bachelor’s degrees in recreation and psychology from Campbellsville University, where she also played on the softball team and was goalkeeper on the first women’s soccer team at the university.
Josh Pate, PhD, Affiliated Faculty Member
Joshua R. Pate is an associate professor in the Hart School of Hospitality, Sport and Recreation Management at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. His research is in sport for people with disabilities with an emphasis on the experiences of individuals and media coverage. Pate has published more than 25 research manuscripts and book chapters and has delivered more than 50 research presentations at national or international conferences. He teaches undergraduate courses in sport sociology and sport communication as well as graduate courses in facilities and event management. He collaborates with the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society for the implementation of the U.S. Department of State Global Sports Mentoring Program focused on developing women and leaders in disability sport from around the world. Pate earned his PhD in sport management from the University of Tennessee in 2012.