Learn about updates to some of Elon College’s signature programs, new initiatives and student and faculty achievements during the 2020-21 academic year.

A group of students standing in a circle while having a class outside.

Elon College Fellows

The Elon College Fellows program continues to build relationships among students and faculty, sparking curiosity across the disciplines through mentored research, focused seminars and activities designed to deepen scholarship. Amid the pandemic, 53 first-year fellows attended the third annual Big Cat Colloquium in September with in-person and virtual visits to the Animal Park at the Conservators Center — a vital in-person/synchronous bonding experience during students’ first weeks at Elon.

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Over Winter Term, fellows instructors redesigned ECF 111: Pathways of Inquiry to include a week of self-selected lectures by faculty and guest researchers, informational sessions by junior and senior fellows, and team-building activities. The interdisciplinary events replaced the program’s traditional Washington, D.C., trip.

Juniors and seniors continued their academic research, modeling their adaptability and resilience in virtual panels for sophomores beginning the research process. Thirty-nine Elon College Fellows graduated with the Class of 2021, completing mentored research projects that were presented at state and national conferences, and some that led to publications.

Director of the Elon Poll, Jason Husser, wearing a mask and standing in front of a wall that reads "Elon Poll"

Elon University Poll

The Elon University Poll released the results of six polls during the 2020-21 academic year on topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic, state and national politics and controversial issues. Poll efforts were successful despite altered survey modes due to the nature of operating a student-staffed telephone call center.

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  • A June 2020 poll of North Carolinians surveyed feelings around the pandemic and its fallout. It showed that more than 70 percent of residents favored the state’s mask mandate, and that concerns about personal health and the financial fallout of COVID-19 were decreasing.
  • An October 2020 poll covered more pandemic-related topics, including heightened worry over the spread of COVID-19 at schools and favorability ratings for presidential and gubernatorial handling of the crisis.
  • A second October 2020 poll asked registered voters about concerns over national election interference, post-election violence and mail-in ballot issues around the November presidential election. More than 75 percent of voters were concerned about post-election violence, and only about 25 percent of voters trusted the fairness of the election.
  • A December 2020 poll found state residents wary of the COVID-19 vaccine, with about 40 percent saying they would take a vaccine.
  • A January poll showed that nearly 60 percent of state residents believed President Donald Trump was responsible for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Fewer than half supported his second impeachment. That same poll found that most state residents planned to or had already been vaccinated, and that state residents mostly favor legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use.
  • A poll conducted in March and April found that nearly 60 percent of state residents favored leaving Confederate monuments in public spaces. In another survey around COVID-19 vaccination, 63 percent of residents said they had or planned to be vaccinated. Nineteen percent said they would not take the vaccine.

Four students looking toward a podium where two professors are giving out awards.

Seventh group of Elon Year of Service Graduate Fellows selected

Six members of the Class of 2021 were selected to spend the coming year working for health, wellness, education and economic development in Alamance County in partnership with local organizations as Elon Year of Service Graduate Fellows.

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  • Caren Aveldañez, a public health studies major, at Alamance Regional Medical Center;
  • Daniel Bascuñan-Wiley, a human service studies major, at Healthy Alamance;
  • Abdul-Malik Harrison, a strategic communications major, at the Alamance County Health Department;
  • Lucia Lozano Robledo, a French and international and global studies double major, with Alamance Achieves;
  • Jewel Tillman, a political science major, with Impact Alamance; and
  • Chandler Vaughan, a policy studies major, with the City of Burlington Economic Development Department.

Two students, one holding a model human skull, sitting at a lab table while a professor stands in between them.

National Science Foundation grant supports Rissa Trachman’s archaeological excavation work in Belize

Associate Professor of Anthropology Rissa Trachman was awarded a $290,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to support the pursuit of transformational archaeological discoveries about ancient marketplaces in Belize.

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The Multi-institutional Collaborative Grant from the NSF will support the work of Trachman and two co-principal investigators from Howard University and Humboldt State University as they investigate pre-Hispanic Maya marketplaces in northwestern Belize.

The funding will advance multiple phases of continued excavation of the Dos Hombres site by Trachman and fellow researchers. They are searching for the existence of a market at the site, which was occupied from about 100 B.C. through A.D. 900. If located, it would be one of the first excavations of a market site from that era in Mesoamerica, which extends from central Mexico through Central America to northern Costa Rica.

Trachman has researched at the site since 1997. She has co-organized field schools in Belize with the University of Texas since 2001 and has led a field school during the summer with Elon students since 2009. During the summer of 2019, her team discovered a tomb from the Late Classic period, a revelation that has the potential to shed light on ancient Maya ritual and religion in the Dos Hombres economy.

Portrait photo of professor Amy Overman

National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation grants advance Overman’s neuroscience research

Assistant Dean of Elon College and Professor of Psychology Amy Overman was awarded two federal grants totaling more than $500,000 supporting research projects at the intersection of cognitive neuroscience and computer science. The projects also maintain and expand collaborations between Elon, North Carolina A&T State University and Penn State University.

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An award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for $413,933 over three years will advance Overman’s work in the field of cognitive neuroscience that is focused on age-related changes in how the brain processes memories. This marks the second time Overman has been principal investigator on a grant from the NIH. In 2016, Overman secured the university’s first direct grant from NIH, a $343,866 award that also supported her research on memory and aging.

The new grant will allow her to extend the scientific aims of her work in innovative directions involving advanced computational analyses of brain-imaging data. Co-investigators Joseph Stephens of North Carolina A&T State University and Nancy Dennis of Penn State University will also contribute to the project.

Additionally, Overman was awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Science Foundation in support of research focused on cognition and cybersecurity. That grant is part of a $500,000 project led by Mohd Anwar of North Carolina A&T State University and explores people’s decision-making regarding security-related software updates, including how those decisions may be influenced by age, race and socioeconomic status.

College faculty plan Freedom Scholars program for area high school seniors

A team of college faculty in the arts and humanities and social sciences will pilot the Freedom Scholars Initiative in 2022, a year-long program around the study of freedom, citizenship and democracy for rising seniors from area high schools. The initiative seeks to develop young citizen-leaders from underserved populations in the surrounding community through a new residential summer institute and year-long program culminating in a symposium showcasing their research and work. The innovative program will pair participants with Elon undergraduate mentors and area civic leaders for support through their college application process and the implementation of community projects. The planning team received a $25,000 planning grant from the Teagle Foundation to prepare to launch the program.

Under the plan, up to 20 Freedom Scholars would gather on Elon’s campus each year for a two-week seminar during which they would study freedom, citizenship and democracy during sessions taught by Elon faculty while being mentored by Elon undergraduates. Programming would continue throughout the scholars’ senior year of high school. The experience would culminate in the Freedom Scholars Symposium, an event offering them the opportunity to present their year-long civic work to the public and welcome the incoming cohort of Freedom Scholars.

The program will target students from low-income households, from ethnically marginalized groups and first-generation college-bound students.

New data analytics and classical studies majors increase interdisciplinary studies

The college will introduce two interdisciplinary majors in fall 2021: B.A. in Data Analytics, coordinated by the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and B.A. in Classical Studies.

Mathematics and statistics faculty collaborated with programs across campus to launch the data analytics major this fall. Data are increasingly central to a range of fields, and expert data analysis will play a vital role in future industries and disciplines. The interdisciplinary major requires an accompanying major or minor and is aimed at undergraduates who might otherwise feel intimidated by a STEM degree. The major already includes electives in business, communication and political science, with more from programs in STEM and social sciences expected as the program grows. The data analytics major is separate from the existing statistics major with data analytics concentration, which requires more high-level math courses, fewer interdisciplinary course electives and doesn’t require an accompanying major or minor.

The classical studies program will offer a major for the first time this fall. The program’s interdisciplinary minor was increasingly popular with students eager to learn more about the enduring relevance of the languages, history and cultures of the ancient world. The classical studies major will be available in two concentrations: ancient languages and ancient civilizations. Incorporating courses in history, art history, philosophy and language, the program equips students to be critically thinking, democratic citizens able to interrogate how the past continues to influence the modern world. Students will gain experience in intercultural competence, interpreting primary sources, pursuing original research and studying abroad.