Terry Tomasek named new director of Elon Academy

The associate professor of education and longtime Elon Academy instructor formally takes over this summer for founding director Deborah Long, who is now serving as interim dean of Elon University’s School of Education.

A longtime educator dedicated to helping young people discover their passions for math and science will assume full leadership this summer of the Elon Academy, Elon University’s nationally recognized college access and success program for academically promising high school students in Alamance County.

Associate Professor Terry Tomasek has spent the past year serving as the academy co-director alongside founding director Deborah Long. Tomasek formally begins her position on June 1, 2014, when Long steps down to focus exclusively on serving the university as interim dean in the School of Education.

Since enrolling its first students in 2007, the Elon Academy has served 144 scholars with limited financial means or no family history of college attendance. Students enter the program as rising sophomores and spend part of the next three summers living and learning at Elon University. During the school year, scholars and their families meet on campus once each month for workshops that focus on building successful study habits, applying to colleges, locating financial aid resources and more.

“The mission of the Academy is to invest in the lives of young people, to help them realize their dreams,” Tomasek said. “For me, being a part of the program is about shaping the ‘trajectory’ of each scholar. I tell them that right now their trajectory is so narrow, but as they grow older, it will widen in unimaginable ways. I’m excited at what’s ahead for each of them and to know the Elon Academy perhaps guided them on a path they wouldn’t otherwise be on because of obstacles they face.”

Tomasek, a past recipient of the School of Education’s Excellence in Teaching Award, joined the Elon faculty in 2006 as she completed her doctoral studies at UNC Greensboro. She had earned her master’s degrees in teaching and biology from Marshall University and her undergraduate degree from the University of South Florida. Prior to her work in higher education, Tomasek taught math and science to both middle and high school students. She has been involved with the Elon Academy for five years, teaching herpetology courses that introduce scholars to potential careers in science.

Elon University President Leo M. Lambert said Tomasek possesses all of the traits that made Long a resounding success as the Elon Academy’s founding director.

“For seven years, Deborah Long has been not only the face of the Elon Academy, but its heart and its soul,” Lambert said. “She has inspired many deserving young men and women in our community to pursue higher education and imagine new ways of using their talents to make our world a better place. Deborah’s legacy is so much more than the number of college degrees awarded to scholars. Her influence will continue to be felt as those she has inspired go out into the world and live the values she instilled. Terry is an excellent choice to carry on that rich legacy. She has the same passion for molding our brightest minds and is the perfect person to carry forward the Elon Academy’s critical role in our community.”

Scholars in past years have traveled across the United States to share their experiences with educators. They created a DVD on pursuing college dreams that was distributed to schools in Alamance County. Several participants mentor young children through the Elon Academy Ambassadors Program, while others have interned for some of the region’s most prominent employers, such as LabCorp.

Three Elon Academy students currently enrolled in college have received Gates Millennium Scholarships, premier national awards from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that cover recipients’ unmet financial needs while offering leadership development opportunities and academic support.

The Elon Academy also has added resources to assist scholars once enrolled in college. Several students in the first class – those who stepped foot on campus for the first time as rising high school sophomores in the summer of 2007 – are preparing to graduate from college this spring, with a half dozen of them deciding between graduate schools admission offers.

Long said she is excited for the future of the program under Tomasek’s guidance. “Terry’s going to take the Elon Academy to the next level,” Long said. “She brings new and fresh ideas to the academy and will make the program even stronger. She’s truly passionate about her work.”

Since joining the Elon University faculty in 1996, in addition to her role with the Elon Academy, Long has made dozens of presentations at conferences around the nation, published in several academic journals, taught courses on education principles and children’s literature, and from 2008-2010, served as Faculty Administrative Fellow and Assistant to the President. She said she plans to remain involved with the Elon Academy as a volunteer ready to assistance in any way needed.

“This wasn’t just about giving students access to college but also providing them with the support to take full advantage of what the college or university they attended had to offer,” said Long, who was the first in her own family to graduate from college. “I knew of their struggles. When I was invited to start the Elon Academy, my life came full circle. I was able to use my experience and education to make a difference in young people’s lives. And it’s exceeded my wildest expectations.”