Opening Doors: Elon parents endow Global Engagement Scholarship

The Graves family makes a generous gift so more students may have the transformative experience offered by studies abroad. 

When Megan Graves ’18 returned to Elon following a study abroad trip to Argentina in 2016, her parents noticed a difference right away.

“It was really a transformative experience for her to be exposed to a different culture and way of life for an extended period of time,” Megan’s father, Jon Graves, says. “It was such a growth experience for her, from taking all of her classes in Spanish to living with a host ‘mother’ in Buenos Aires, and planning and taking side trips to different regions of Argentina and neighboring countries. Her Spanish was good before she left, but she came back fluent and as a much more confident young adult.”

The change in their daughter resonated with Jon and Nina Graves. Jon recalls his own study abroad experiences in Spain as an undergraduate student at Dartmouth College in 1984. Now an attorney in Reston, Virginia, he was a Spanish major at Dartmouth. In Spain, he took college classes and lived with a Spanish family with other students.

“I can’t keep up with Megan now speaking Spanish,” he says with a laugh.

Megan’s experiences in Buenos Aires impressed the Graves family, leading to a generous $50,000 endowment gift to create the Graves Family Global Engagement Scholarship. She left for her study abroad in July 2016 and returned home just before Christmas. Her liberal arts courses were taught in Spanish and she became immersed in the culture of Argentina and South America.

“We felt that it would be gratifying to provide scholarship funds to enable more students to have the experience of a study abroad program,” Jon says. “Foreign study provides benefits you just can’t get from being on campus all four years.”

Study abroad programs are a hallmark of studies at Elon and a critical part of the university’s strategic commitment to global engagement, creating a rich learning environment for students and honing future leaders. Elon’s study abroad program is nationally recognized as a leader in higher education by highly regarded college rankings compiled by U.S. News & World Report and the Princeton Review. Both organizations gave Elon high marks in 2017 for its study abroad program. Elon ranked No. 1 by U.S. News & World Report and No. 4 by Princeton Review.

At the moment, Elon offers more than 125 semester and winter term study abroad programs through the Isabella Cannon Global Education Center. These programs allow students to immerse themselves in a new culture and learn to appreciate the differences between nations while recognizing what binds us together as a human community.

In 2016, 74 percent of graduating seniors participated in study abroad at least once during their time at Elon and more than 80 percent participated in a global engagement program (either study abroad or Study USA). Elon’s goal is 100 percent access to study abroad so that all students have the opportunity for these transformative experiences.

Elon students surveyed by the Princeton Review called study abroad at Elon a “phenomenal” program with an emphasis on producing “global leaders that will make the world a better place.”

Jon Graves says Elon has exceeded his daughter’s expectations. A psychology and Spanish major, she has “embraced the whole undergraduate experience. Elon provided an optimum environment for her development.” Jon, who graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law, says Megan is pursuing a Fulbright Award to teach English to children in Spain. Ultimately, she plans to attend graduate school and obtain a doctorate in psychology.

The family believes the global and experiential exposure Megan received at Elon is vital for future students, too.

“We feel very strongly that the benefits of study abroad are unique to that sort of learning environment both academically and in the overall maturation of a young person. Students can reap benefits from study abroad experiences and meet challenges they’re not going to face in the bubble on campus or around Burlington,” Jon says. “We’re happy to provide the opportunity to some students who might not otherwise get the chance to have a foreign study experience.”

The “Opening Doors” story series celebrates the power of scholarships to change the lives of Elon students and the generosity of donors who make this transformation possible.