Deborah Long: building bridges

For efforts to bring together local schools and the university, Long received the 2012 Periclean Award for Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility.


When Deborah Long helped create the Elon Academy in 2007, she had one goal in mind: to make college accessible to high school students in the community who had financial need and/or no family history of college.

“I’ve always been drawn to working with underserved students and families,” Long says. “When the opportunity came along to lead the Elon Academy, it felt really right.”

Perhaps what Long did not realize at the time was the far-reaching effect her work was going to have not only on the students who took part in the program but also on those volunteers and professionals who work with her. As part as her role as director of the Academy, Long has worked with summer program teachers, university student mentors, young researchers, practicing professionals and support staff. She has encouraged them to excel in their own initiatives, thus enriching lives beyond the 136 high school students who have enrolled in the program so far.

“Deborah has been the heart and brains behind the Elon Academy,” say her colleagues. “She has worked tirelessly to make the Elon Academy a comprehensive program that supports not only access to college but also success in college.”

In recognition of her work with the Academy, this year Long became the 10th recipient of the Periclean Award for Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility, which is given each year to a member of Elon’s faculty or staff whose community service exemplifies the ideals of Project Pericles.

Long has a long history of working with at-risk students. After graduating from Colby College in 1970 with a degree in psychology, she joined the Teacher Corps and taught in low-income schools from 1971 to 1973. She earned a master’s degree in elementary education from Virginia State University in 1973 and worked as an elementary school teacher in the Durham (N.C.) City School System for the next three years. She eventually received a doctorate in curriculum, instruction and educational leadership from the University of Memphis in 1996, and later that year, joined Elon’s faculty.

From 2002 until 2006, she served as chair of the Education Department and coordinator of elementary education. For the next two years, she served as faculty administrative fellow and assistant to the president. In that position, she was responsible for developing new and enhancing existing programs for underserved youth in the community through campus-community partnerships, which led to the creation of the Elon Academy.

Academically talented Alamance County high school students are selected to participate in the Academy during their freshman year. They spend part of the next three summers working with Long and engaging in academic and enrichment activities on Elon’s campus, and weekend programs for scholars and their families are held throughout the school year. In the summer after high school graduation, scholars and families participate in the Elon Academy Transitions to College Program, and during their time on their respective college campuses, Elon Academy graduates and families receive support through the Elon Academy College Success Program.

As a result of Long’s work, Elon has become “a more welcoming place for first generation, low-income and minority students and families,” her colleagues say. For those students whose lives have been transformed, the impact of Long’s work cannot be overstated.

“Dr. Long played an instrumental part in my journey to college,” says an Elon Academy graduate and current Elon student. “ I could not ask for a better role model than Dr. Long; she inspires me and I look up to her so much. … Dr. Long has touched so many lives through the Elon Academy and I am blessed that she is part of my life.”

For Long, it doesn’t get any better than this.

“It’s been a privilege” to be a part of the Academy, Long says. “It’s been the highlight of my career.”