Jim Donathan: A life-changing mentor

The longtime academic adviser received the 2012 Ward Family Excellence in Mentoring Award for his commitment to student success.

Jim Donathan is praised for showing genuine care and concern for the students he advises.


As associate director of academic advising and director of academic support at Elon, Jim Donathan lives to help students overcome any obstacles that may derail them from achieving their academic goals.

“He’s more than an academic adviser,” says a colleague. “He’s a role model for our students. … He also has high ideals and expectations for student success.”

This dedication to his students earned him the 2012 Elon University Ward Family Excellence in Mentoring Award.

Read Jim Donathan’s feature in Campus Uncommons.

Those who work closely with Donathan say he shows genuine care and concern for the students he advises, whether it is helping them change classes or select classes that align better with their interests, challenging them to get out of their comfort zone or support them during crises.

Besides carrying the largest advising load in his department, Donathan mentors special probationary students (those whose academic future is in jeopardy), meeting with them and monitoring their progress even after a crisis has been averted. His kindness and compassion have greatly impacted the lives of countless students who throughout the years have found themselves in tough academic situations. At least one scholarship has been endowed to Elon in honor of his mentoring.

“No student who has crossed Jim’s path forgets him, nor does he forget them,” says a colleague. “Many students, those who experienced academic difficulty and those who didn’t, realize that it was his mentoring, his willingness to invest his time in their future, that led to their graduation day.”

Donathan arrived at Elon in 1994 and regularly teaches a section of Elon 101 to help freshman acclimate to college life. But his interest in the students doesn’t end after the class is over. He follows up with students as they continue their college journey and encourages them to keep going after their goals. He’s perhaps the only adviser on campus who holds an early May picnic at his house each year for the seniors who were in his class as freshmen.

“He’s the kind of person who will do everything in his power to help his students be successful,” says a student. “His mentorship has ranged from helping me select classes to advising me to be more involved on campus. Every time I go to see Jim for advising, I walk out feeling more confident in my college career.

“How he helps students create schedules that balance and fit together needs, requirements and goals is true art.”

Outside the classroom, Donathan advised Elon’s chapter of the Kappa Alpha Order for more than 10 years, service that earned him a national award in 2000. He continues to serve the fraternity in an informal advisory capacity.

Donathan is the fifth recipient of the Ward Award, which honors a faculty or staff member who demonstrates a commitment to Elon undergraduates through outstanding mentoring. The award was established by Tom and Beth Ward P ’05 ’08 ’14, their sons, A.T. ’05, Christopher ’08 and Chase ’14, and Tom Ward’s mother, Dorothy Mears Ward GP ’05 ’08 ’14.

Coming up next week: a profile on Deborah Long, winner of this year’s Periclean Award for Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility.