A Visit to Elon University

Despite having approximately 6,000 undergraduates and 700 graduate students, Elon feels like a much smaller liberal arts college. My tour guide, Wil, is currently in his senior year, majoring in finance and accounting. He is a tremendous ambassador for the university and did a great job sharing all that Elon offers. Here’s what I learned…

At the center of Elon’s educational philosophy is the belief that learning happens everywhere. As a result, their signature program, the Elon Experiences, offers a natural extension of the work done in the classroom. Students are required to complete two units of experiential learning which may be done through Study Abroad, Research, Internships, Service and/or Leadership. Based on the numbers, it’s clear that students take advantage of the offerings beyond the basic requirements. Of recent grads, 74% spent at least one term abroad, 92% took part in at least one internship, 24% conducted faculty-mentored undergraduate research outside the classroom, 47% held at least one leadership position and 92% engaged in service. Other highlights of the academic programs:

  • For those interested in pursuing professions in medicine, there are two designated human donor labs for undergrads and a pre-health advising system.
  • Engineering is offered through a 3+2 program which supports students in working toward two degrees: one from Elon and one from an engineering university. The school currently has affiliations with North Carolina State University, Georgia Tech, Pennsylvania State University, Virginia Tech, Columbia University, University of Notre Dame, Washington University in St. Louis, University of South Carolina and North Carolina A&T State University.
  • Through the Mooney School of Education, students spend their first year observing and their last year teaching in a classroom. The school has a dedicated library on the first floor. Outreach to the community can be done through the Village Project which offers the chance to tutor English or Math in the local schools.
  • All students receive an academic advisor on day one of freshman year. A new one is provided once a major is declared.
  • All students are assigned a dedicated librarian. The Belk Library offers space for group work along with writing and tutoring centers.
  • About 20% of students study in the School of Communication and it’s easy to see why. The new building overlooks tiny downtown Elon, NC and includes a state-of-the-art studio donated by Brian Williams of NBC which produces several TV shows staring and produced by Elon students. Strategic Communications is the most popular major on campus.
  • The business school is expanding but classes are relatively small and capped at 33.

I had the opportunity to meet Kate Upton, Assistant Professor of Finance, when we were touring the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business. When I asked her what she liked most about her Elon experience, she said it’s the value that the school places on mentorship. Mentoring students isn’t just encouraged; it’s something on which professors are evaluated.

The student body is 42% Greek but it’s predominately made up of sororities. Wil is not in a fraternity and said that not joining may have impacted the development of his social life initially but he does not feel that not participating in the Greek system has held him back. He did say that not going Greek might be more of an issue for females than males.

College Coffee is a cherished tradition on campus. Every Tuesday morning, the community comes together for conversation over coffee and pastries. Another Elon tradition is the lighting of the luminaries during exam time in the lead up to the holidays. Elon was named after the Hebrew word for oak and two traditions have developed in celebration of these roots. New Student Convocation for first year and transfer students is held “Under the Oaks” behind West Dormitory. Each new student receives their own acorn at the close of the ceremony to symbolize their beginning at Elon. At graduation, each student receives an oak sapling which symbolizes their growth at the university.

Students are required to live on campus and participate in the meal plan for two years. Wil is so fond of both that he is participating all four years. Food must be good! In addition, to offering seven residential neighborhoods, Elon also offers 26 living learning communities to enable groups of people with shared interests and goals to live together. Examples include Gender & Sexuality, Leaders in a Global World, Interfaith House, Creative Arts and World Languages.

Elon offers several need and merit based scholarships. In addition, the university offers six Fellows Programs which include additional scholarship opportunities. To be considered, students must submit an additional Fellows application which will be reviewed by faculty committees. If selected, you will be invited to attend Fellows Weekend during which students participate in a seminar and write a response to the topic discussed, interview with faculty and attend information sessions about the program. From this weekend-long process, Fellows are selected.

According to Wil, diversity is an initiative of major importance to university president, Leo Lambert. The school is proud to have achieved 20% racial and ethnic diversity in the Class of 2020. In the summer 2017 edition of The Magazine of Elon, Lambert says that the school is “now in the early stages of meeting the next great long-term challenge for Elon: building our endowment for the primary purpose of increasing student financial aid”. Earlier this year, Lambert announced that he was stepping down after 18 years. Wil described Lambert as personable, said that he’s done a good job of representing the student body and has helped the school to gain name recognition.  During Lambert’s presidency, applications for undergraduate admission have doubled, enrollment has grown from 4,000 to more than 6,700, and full-time faculty numbers have increased from under 200 to 425. During this period of growth, student academic credentials increased, average class sizes dropped and the student-faculty ratio decreased from 16-to-1 to 12-to-1. In the days following my visit to campus, Elon announced Dr. Connie Ledoux Book as the university’s ninth president.  Dr. Book comes to Elon from The Citadel where she served as Dean & Provost, the first female to hold either title in The Citadel’s 175-year history.

Rankings are an important component of the university’s branding and marketing efforts. Elon has successfully transformed itself from a regional, religious college to a selective, nationally recognized university. It will be interesting to see how the university evolves under the leadership of Dr. Book in the years to come.