President Book and students connect through online town hall

During a virtual town hall Wednesday, President Connie Ledoux Book shared about plans underway for fall semester while hearing from students about how they are adapting to online learning and life at home.

President Connie Ledoux Book hosted an online town hall Wednesday, fielding questions from students who joined the WebEx event remotely and discussing plans for Commencement and a return to campus this fall.

The online gathering offered an opportunity for a three-student panel to discuss how their lives have changed since the shift to online learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, how they stay motivated, and some of the bright spots during this tumultuous time. Book shared about how she is approaching her role and how the university community has pivoted and adapted during this unprecedented event.

“I am motivated by the fact that we continue to learn new things,” Book said when asked by panelist Fredrick Evans ’20, a senior history major from Winston-Salem, N.C., who has remained on campus. “This new awareness will teach us important lessons we will use in the future.”

Evans was joined on the panel by Robbie Miley ’21, who was elected Student Government Association executive president this spring and who joined from his home in Mt. Airy, Maryland, and Sarah Myers ’22, a first-year mentor for the Leadership Fellows who is majoring in strategic communications and communications design.

Myers shared that connecting online through videoconferencing in two of her classes — seeing her classmates’ faces and hearing their voices — has helped create a “nice sense of normalcy” during a time when much has changed. With both of her parents working from their home, she’s had to jockey for space for her own work, but she’s enjoyed spending time with her family during a period when they otherwise would have been apart.

“Seeing them and spending time with them has been nice, and kind of a break that I didn’t know I needed,” Myers said.

Miley said he’s also appreciated the unexpected boost in family time that remote learning has provided, and said he’s also focused on remaining connected with Elon friends through videoconferencing. “I’ve made an intentional effort to stay connected with my friends, and I’ve been trying to go on runs to get into shape,” Miley said. “My professors have been really flexible, and that’s made it easier.”

Miley encouraged his fellow students to stay connected and to continue to care for their mental health, using the resources that are available remotely from Counseling Services at Elon. There can be challenges since mental health counselors can’t practice across state lines, but Counseling Services can still help you find a resource outside the state of North Carolina during this challenging time.

One student asked President Book for an update on how faculty are doing during this time of online learning. Book noted that Elon faculty “don’t end up here by accident,” and are drawn to Elon’s model that includes close interaction and engagement between students and faculty. But faculty members have been nimble and resourceful as they have moved online, she said. “We’re doing it, and we’re doing it well, but we’ll be glad when we’re finished and able to reconvene on campus in the fall, since that’s our strength,” Book said.

Asked more specifically about plans for fall semester, Book reassured students that “we will come back in the fall, and it will look different.” On Monday, Book announced the creation of a task force headed by President Emeritus Leo M. Lambert that has begun the work of planning for a return to in-person instruction this fall. That will include new provisions to manage social distancing requirements and ensure students, faculty and staff abide by healthy habits.

“I am really confident that that task force is going to develop recommendations that keep our community healthy when we come back in the fall,” Book said.

Evans shared that his time on campus, which has continued to be home to several hundred students during this time, has allowed him extra time to exercise and read. The decision that Commencement could not be held in May “hit us hard,” he said, but he’s confident that he and his classmates will still have a meaningful experience as they conclude their Elon education.

Elon will confer diplomas on May 22 through a virtual ceremony, and an on-campus celebration for graduates and their families will be held later. Book noted that there are student members on the committee that is planning the in-person celebration for the Class of 2020.

Evans said he tells classmates who are down about the shift in Commencement plans to “remember the school that you go to.”

“There’s something special about this place,” Evans said. “There’s a pride we have in the traditions we have. It’s going to look different, but we’re going to stay true to our traditions, somehow, someway.”