Elon president greets middle schoolers visiting N.C.

The group was led by an Elon alumna who inspires her young students to plan for and then pursue a college education.

Dozens of students from a Maryland middle school visited campus Tuesday to hear directly from Elon University’s president about the need for a college degree in the 21st century and the joys they will encounter along their path to that education.

“College is a wonderful experience,” Elon President Leo M. Lambert told students in McKinnon Hall. “And for success in the world today a college degree is something you are going to have to have.”

Lambert also listed experiences that happen outside of class to make students prepared to be global citizens. Studying abroad, service, leadership activities, internships and undergraduate research were among those he cited.

“College is more than going to class, though going to class is important,” he said. “We want you to be able to answer important questions on your own. And we want to prepare you as an undergraduate for success after college.”

Ruby Thornton ’99 organized the visit for her students in grades six through eight at Stephen Decatur Middle School in Clinton, Md. Many of the students would be the first in their families to earn a college degree, and most of them are already making their school’s honor roll.

For many of the students in the AVID program, short for “Advancement Via Individual Determination,” the Tuesday visit represented their first steps outside the state of Maryland. The group left Maryland early in the morning and Elon University was their first stop on a two-day excursion to North Carolina. Students also will visit N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro, N.C. Central University in Durham and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“I had to make the best school the first!” Thornton said moments before the start of the program. “I had to set the standard for the other schools!”

She was quick to explain a deeper meaning to the North Carolina visit. Though her students had previously visited campuses in Maryland, trekking south created a bonding experience with lasting memories for the children, many of whom live on or near Andrews Air Force Base where their parents are stationed.

“Exposure to college should start earlier rather than later,” Thornton said. “Our students have backpacks that say ‘college isn’t just a dream, it’s a plan.’ The earlier you can plan, the better off you’ll be.”

Elon junior Jessica Eller and freshman Jonathan Garcia-Pena offered words of encouragement as well. The two graduates of the Elon Academy college access and success program for Alamance County high school students shared their personal stories of self-discovery and educational attainment.

“I realized that if you want something bad enough – whether it be an internship, leadership position, or even to go to college – although you may not know exactly how you’re going to get there just yet, as long as you have the drive, commitment and patience to make it happen, it will,” Eller said. “One way or another, it will.”