Elon students help launch #2020TurnYourTassel campaign for high school seniors

Elon entrepreneurship students have worked with community partner Tassel to Tassel to give high school seniors the full graduation experience at home during this period of social distancing.

High school seniors have felt the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as much as anyone, as second-semester rites of passage like exams, proms and graduation ceremonies have been put on hold or even canceled because of social distancing.

“All of these things that signified the end of high school and moving into adulthood were taken away, and I wanted to do what I could to help students get back something that’s been taken away,” said Dedra Eatmon, founder of Tassel to Tassel, a Greensboro, North Carolina-based company that helps high school seniors in their transition to college.

Tassel to Tassel was born out of Eatmon’s time teaching at North Carolina A&T State University when she noticed many of her first-year students were struggling to overcome obstacles associated with the first year of college. Eatmon began hosting workshops for graduating high school seniors and their families at the Greensboro Public Library. The workshops have since expanded, going beyond discussions about admissions, test prep or financial aid, to prepare seniors to navigate life in college.

With the transition to virtual learning to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Eatmon is working with entrepreneurship students at Elon to give high school seniors the proper sendoff before their college journeys begin.

Students in Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship Elena Kennedy’s social entrepreneurship course, ENT 355: Entrepreneurship for the Greater Good, have worked with Eatmon to develop the #2020TurnYourTassel campaign. The initiative aims to deliver a virtual graduation experience to high school seniors by providing a toolkit to carry out personalized graduation ceremonies at home.

“As a senior student that may not have my dream graduation, I perfectly understand what you are going through,” said Enrique Quemada Del Pino ’20 in a message to high school seniors. “We want to give you the opportunity to celebrate graduation surrounded by your beloved ones. Let’s make it happen online!”

Del Pino is one of several Elon students who helped develop the toolkit for Eatmon and Tassel to Tassel. The kit includes sample invitations, tips for making a cap and gown, a script for an at-home ceremony, a graduation playlist and much more to help soon-to-be graduates fondly remember their special day.

“I loved Dr. Eatmon’s idea of an at-home graduation toolkit because it defines what everyone in this country needs right now: empathy,” said Kelly Mahoney ’20. “We need to be there for each other because everyone is losing something during this pandemic. We all can be grateful for what we have and make do with the circumstances, and I hope this toolkit helps.”

The Elon students have spent the semester completing a variety of other research and marketing projects to help Tassel to Tassel expand its partnerships and overall footprint. This real-world impact on local businesses is one of the key pillars of Kennedy’s Entrepreneurship for the Greater Good class, which is registered with Elon’s Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement as an academic service-learning course.

“One of the things that I love about this project is that it gives the students a tangible impact in the community and a tangible link to the community in a way that they might not get in the traditional classroom,” Kennedy said. “And then also for our students, it really gives them access to an approachable role model in the field of entrepreneurship.”

Entrepreneurship for the Greater Good students participate in a design thinking exercise at Elon. (Photo courtesy: Elena Kennedy)

For the past three years, Kennedy’s course has paired students with a number of local companies, allowing them to provide their services and apply what they’ve learned in the classroom. This year’s community partners were selected through the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce’s LaunchLab of Greensboro, which supports small businesses as they launch, grow and expand. LaunchLab paired students with four local companies: Tassel to Tassel, Percensys CORE Learning LLC, Yay! Brand and The Artist Bloc. Students applied for positions on each of the four teams and were paired with the organization that best fit their skills and interests.

Over the course of the semester each team works with their partner to design and execute a project, giving them hands-on experience working within a small business and applying the design and innovation concepts taught throughout the entrepreneurship curriculum. And while students had already learned a great deal about entrepreneurship in their time with these companies, Kennedy says fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has added another important layer to their education.

“It’s taught them that they need to act,” Kennedy said. “All of our daily lives have been disrupted in some way. It was really easy in these partnerships for students to feel stuck and not be sure of what they should be doing. But they learned they just needed to get started.”