Student-led programs ‘Burst the Bubble’ during Winter Term

Burst the Bubble programs are free, student-led, non-credit sessions where students share their talents, interests and skills with their peers.

Elon’s Winter Term each January offers students the opportunity to study abroad, enroll in classes and find new ways to engage with campus and the surrounding community. That includes the Burst the Bubble initiative — free, student-led, noncredit programs offered throughout the month.

For Caren Aveldanez ’20, Burst the Bubble offered the chance for her to support mentoring for local high school girls.

“I thought this would be a good opportunity to create a program where I could bring a bunch of girls from Elon to create a support group and kind of work with the high school girls,” Aveldanez said.

Elon students engage with local high school girls during “Dreaming of the Future: Supporting the Women of Tomorrow.”

Aveldanez created a program called “Dreaming of the Future: Supporting the Women of Tomorrow,” and with facilitation help from Fiona Zahm ’20 and Joyce Llopis-Martell ’21, the program has brought together a group of Elon students to the CityGate Dream Center twice a week to spend time with and mentor high school girls.

“In my interaction with the girls, they talked about a lot of different issues that they were facing – a lack of confidence, a lack of positivity and a lack of support in their lives,” said Aveldanez, who has volunteered at the Dream Center since Winter Term 2019. “I wanted to bring in people from the outside to help break down these stereotypes, expectations and perceptions that these young women have.”

In Aveldanez’s program, Elon students discuss a wide range of issues with the high school participants while both groups help each other find and embrace their identities, set goals and create a supportive community. The group’s first meeting consisted of icebreakers, stories and discussions about goals and expectations for their time together. Each person signed a poster that listed guidelines for the group that reminded everyone to always show respect and to listen, and most of all, “love ourselves and others.”

Aveldanez’s program comes from her passion for the Dream Center, which offers an after-school program for children with low socioeconomic backgrounds in Burlington, North Carolina. Now she is sharing that passion with her peers through Burst the Bubble.

“I just kind of like bonding the two groups and building a community of empowered women that come from so many different backgrounds,” Aveldanez said. “I thought it would be a really good thing to do.”

“Dreaming of the Future” is one of 15 programs offered during Burst the Bubble 2020. The programs do not include homework, tests, outside assignments or grades. The experiences are completely student-designed and facilitated. Programs range from an introduction to the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons to lessons in music from around the world.

Austin Hays ’21 (left) leads students through the process of making dumplings in the LaRose Student Commons kitchen.

Austin Hays ’21 designed a program that uses cuisine to teach students about world cultures. In “A Global Kitchen: Cooking Dishes from Around the World,” he hosts cooking classes in the LaRose Student Commons kitchen that focus on the techniques behind and the history of the dishes students create. In a recent session, Hays taught the group to make dumplings, a food he came to appreciate while studying abroad in Beijing, China.

“All the places I’ve had the opportunity to travel to, even if you can’t share the language or you don’t have a lot in common with someone, you can sit down with them and share a bowl of noodles or whatever it is, wherever you are in the world,” Hays said. “You can become close, and you can understand that person’s food, their cuisine, and it’s all so tied with culture that it’s really a learning opportunity.”

Any student can facilitate or participate in one of the Student Life-funded programs, which have been offered each Winter Term since 2007.

“I think it’s something that’s meaningful to the students who participate,” said Cole Moore, assistant to the vice president for student life and director of student life assessment and planning. “It’s not a long-term commitment to something. Rather, it’s a light-touch experience that helps them get out of the bubble they’ve been living in.”

That is exactly what Aveldanez hopes to accomplish as she and her fellow Elon students provide mentorship to high school girls at the Dream Center. She says she is grateful for the opportunity to give back to the community while knowing she has the support of the university behind her.

“I think Burst the Bubble is a really cool way that Elon keeps students involved over Winter Term,” Aveldanez said. “It’s a really good experience being put in a leadership position where I’m the one creating the course, I’m deciding what time to meet, I’m the one planning and coordinating with the program that I wanted to partner with.”

To learn more about Burst the Bubble or to see a full list of past programs, click here.