Powell BuildingOffice of the President

Great Relationships Formed in College Matter After College

I f you have heard me speak this past spring at one of our Evenings for Elon across the nation, my central theme has been based on the results of an important Gallup-Purdue poll of 30,000 college graduates, presented in a report titled “Great Jobs, Great Lives.”

The poll found that college graduates were twice as likely to be engaged at work if they had a professor who:

  1. cared about them as a person
  2. made them excited about learning
  3. served as a mentor, encouraging them to pursue their dreams.

Stop and think for a minute about the meaning of these findings. Not only do important relationships formed in college impact the quality of the collegiate experience, they also affect engagement at work after college.

A very sad additional finding is that only 14 percent of the 30,000 graduates polled experienced all three key faculty interactions. The poll also explored the idea of “well-being” after college based upon five dimensions:

  1. purpose well-being (I like what I do)
  2. financial well-being
  3. social well-being
  4. community well-being (I like where I live)
  5. physical well-being.

Odds of thriving in all areas of well-being were:

  • 4.6 times higher if graduates were engaged at work
  • 2.5 times higher if they believed their college prepared them well for life outside of college
  • 2 times higher if they were emotionally attached to their school
  • 1.9 times higher if they had all three dimensions of mentor relationships identified above.

Again, these results point to the critical importance of the collegiate experience for thriving beyond college. Relationships formed in college between students and their faculty and staff mentors matter. They matter a great deal. I hear the word “community” perhaps more than any other to describe Elon. At its essence, a community is a set of human relationships bonded by common goals, purposes and mission.

And in the end, human relationships formed in college, both peer-mentor and peer-to-peer, are at the heart of a meaningful collegiate experience. A primary goal of institutions committed to a high-quality undergraduate experience should be the continual examination of its practices to ensure the intentional cultivation of influential and meaningful personal relationships.

One of Elon University’s great distinctions on the national landscape of American higher education is our leadership in the area of “high-impact” educational practices. For years, U.S. News & World Report has issued a “Focus on Student Success” ranking of key programs that enrich the college experience. Elon is the only university in the nation identified as a leader in seven high-impact practices:

  1. Study abroad
  2. Internships
  3. Senior capstone experiences
  4. First-year experiences
  5. Learning communities
  6. Service learning
  7. Undergraduate research/creative projects.

High-impact practices are high impact because they are relationship-rich experiences. Think about the impact your undergraduate research mentor had on your educational career, helping you to navigate the challenges of independent research. Recall the impact of your global studies professor or your Elon 101 instructor during your first year of adjustment to university life. Reflect on how your senior capstone professor helped you synthesize and integrate your undergraduate major. Mentors off campus are hugely influential as well. Perhaps an internship supervisor or mentor turned out to be one of your most influential teachers. Indeed, relationships matter.

The goal of fostering important human relationships drives much of the work of the Elon Commitment strategic plan. Let me provide three examples.

First, our commitment to reshape the residential campus is driven by the idea that residential communities should aspire to be 24/7 environments for learning, including opportunities to have informal interactions with faculty, continue discussions started in the classroom over dinner and join in enriching and engaging out-of-class activities, such as films and informal presentations.

Second, our commitment to double need-based aid at Elon stems from a desire for students to build relationships with talented people from all over the nation and the globe from different backgrounds and walks of life. We believe learning is enriched for everyone through these interactions and that the fabric of university life is strengthened immeasurably.

Third, a focus on relationship building drives the imagination process about the creation of the physical campus. The new School of Communications project underway, for example, was designed to create many informal spaces to encourage students to stay long after classes are dismissed and engage with faculty and with each other in comfortable gathering places throughout the building.

When you are asked to give your 60-second “elevator speech” about what makes Elon special, I hope you will say, “It’s about the incredible people there. Let me tell you about some of the relationships I formed at Elon that changed my life.”

Leo M. Lambert

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