An initiative sponsored by the Eugene Lang Foundation in 2001, Project Pericles challenged ten colleges and universities to provide a learning experience that will "instill in students an abiding and active sense of social responsibility and civic concern." Elon University accepted the challenge, which fit with the university's stated mission to prepare students to be global citizens and informed leaders and to foster an ethic of work and service.
Foster a conversation in the community about ways in which Elon can better partner with local organizations
Be more deliberate about embedding civic engagement and social responsibility in the curriculum
Invite all constituencies of the university to integrate Periclean values into all dimensions of the institution
Implement a systematic program for highly motivated students designed to enhance their awareness of civic responsibility and provide them with skills to be proactive members of society.
In June 2002, Elon hosted a highly successful Summit for Civic Engagement, bringing faculty, students and community leaders together to discuss ways that Elon can better partner with local agencies. As a result of this summit, facilitated by Dr. James Applegate (AAHE), the campus not only gained a significant amount of information but also forged partnerships that provided a strong foundation for Project Pericles activities.
Early in the fall semester of 2002, faculty were challenged to devise ways to enhance civic engagement and focus on social responsibility in their classes. Course enhancements grants of up to $1,000 were offered to support those ideas, and faculty were encouraged to join forces to sponsor larger projects. We devoted $40,000 to this project and were overwhelmed with ideas that faculty submitted. During January 2003, four classes sponsored construction of a global village in conjunction with Heifer International. In all, students in more than 15 classes took advantage of the programming that this project offered. Other funded projects included a study abroad class in Australia building a playground in an Aboriginal neighborhood, an education class comparing schools in wealthy and poor districts, and a ceramic art project to benefit CrossRoads Sexual Assault Response and Resource Center of Alamance County. Activities such as these, embedded in academic classes, open students' eyes to the needs of the world and our obligation as citizens to become engaged to alleviate these needs. Approximately 50 faculty members were directly involved in one or more of these projects. All faculty who received Course Enhancement Grants were required to specify how they would document and assess the impact of their project. The assessment data from the most successful projects was used as the foundation for grant applications for additional funds from a variety of external sources.
Additionally, each year Project Pericles has committed to funding up to four service sabbaticals for any university employee. These sabbaticals afford the employees an opportunity to spend a month working with an agency or cause to which they are committed. Funding from Project Pericles pays for their temporary replacement. The first year, funded sabbaticals included the associate registrar, who worked with a shelter for young unwed mothers; and a computer technician, who volunteered his expertise to train technicians and teachers in the local school system. The service sabbatical program enables Elon to reach out to the larger community in a variety of significant ways and to provide exemplary role models for students. Each service sabbatical recipient is encouraged to integrate student interns into their project.
In May 2003, Elon presented the first annual Pericles Award to a faculty or staff person whose efforts as a civically engaged and socially responsible citizen model the ideals of Project Pericles. Establishing this award was an important step in recognizing and honoring an Elon employee who lives the creed that we seek to instill in our students.
Our fifth major commitment was to establish a class of Periclean Scholars each year — students who are committed to civic engagement and social responsibility. All first year Elon students take a course called The Global Experience. Students completing The Global Experience provided a well grounded pool of candidates for the Periclean Scholars program. These young men and women, chosen through a rigorous application process, take special courses their sophomore, junior, and senior years that center around a class project (chosen by the students) focused on civic responsibility and engagement. They acquire multiple sets of skills that empower them to raise important issues and solve problems in a complex global environment.
Students first survey global issues, such as hunger in India, or AIDS in Africa. Their sophomore year involves the selection and development of their project, which they see through completion their senior year. Projects must be creative, original and most importantly, global. Project Pericles not only provides an excellent opportunity to expose young men and women to social responsibility, but will teach them practical ways to get involved. As the program matures, each entering cohort is mentored by those who came before them and, when their turn comes, mentor the classes behind them.
The first class of Periclean Scholars, who graduated in 2006, adopted the mission to make both local and global communities aware of the issues surrounding the spread of HIV/AIDS in Namibia, Africa. Each subsequent class adopts their own unique mission.