Gayatri Chopra ’23 learned about the scholarship program while participating in The Fellows Experience, a Winter Term class that provides first-year Communications Fellows an opportunity to tour media companies in Florida, meet professionals in their fields, and learn more about their future industries.
Gayatri Chopra ’23 has earned one of the 49 inaugural scholarships created to honor the 49 people who lost their lives in the PULSE nightclub shooting in Orlando in June 2016. The 49 Legacy Scholarships initiative was created by the onePULSE Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to memorialize the victims and their lives.
Chopra learned of the scholarship during The Fellows Experience, a Winter Term class that provides first-year Communications Fellows with the opportunity to tour media companies in Tampa and Orlando, and meet professionals in their areas of study. As part of the two-week trip in January, which included 11 company tours, course co-instructors Hal Vincent and Amber Moser organized a special guided tour of the former PULSE nightclub, now a memorial construction site. The Elon group met with Nikole Parker, the foundation’s stakeholder and community relations manager.
“I would not have known about the onePULSE Legacy Scholarship if it hadn’t been for the Communications Fellows program,” said Chopra, a Charlotte native. “Getting the opportunity to visit the Pulse nightclub memorial through Elon was very informative, and talking with the community outreach director was truly enriching because she explained how each part of the memorial had a purpose to honor those affected by the tragedy.”
This January was not the first time the Communications Fellows course has made a visit to the memorial site.
“Like many, I had not heard of PULSE the first year I taught the course in Florida in January 2016. But by the time we visited Florida in January 2017, everything changed,” said Vincent, a lecturer in strategic communications and faculty director of Live Oak communications.
“When this tragedy occurred, I knew learning about and visiting the PULSE location was going to be an important part of this course,” he added. “I wanted to expand the course, or more specifically, the students’ experiences, to include more than a study of the communications businesses of Tampa and Orlando. I also sought to focus course learning toward understanding the historical background and the socio-geopolitical blend Florida is today.”
Vincent referenced examples from Florida’s formation, from Spanish conquistadors, Calusa native peoples, escaped enslaved peoples and deserting Confederate soldiers, to the 2000 presidential ballot “hanging chads,” Greek sponge farmers, and mermaids, to Trayvon Martin, the Mariel boatlift, “Cocoon,” baseball spring training and Babe Ruth, sinkholes, and gators in Disney World.
“The whole point of teaching for me is to help students learn from the past, and to use their individual passions and talents, whatever they may be, to make a positive difference in the world,” Vincent said.
The PULSE nightclub memorial held special significance for Vincent, who previously worked as both a professor in Tampa and an advertising account supervisor for the Orlando/Orange County Visitors and Convention Bureau in the mid-2000s. His connection to the area made the impact of the tragedy more real as he spoke with friends, colleagues and former students from Florida who were directly touched by the nightclub shooting.
He set out to visit the site with the first group of students just seven months after the tragic shooting, and he has watched it transform from makeshift and raw in January 2017 to a developed community foundation-led effort to memorialize the location for future generations. Through the Orlando community’s reaction and the efforts of the creative communications and production communities, the memorial communicates the message that love conquers hate, and rallies the country to be “Orlando Strong.”
“The memorial means a lot to me,” Vincent said. “It was a convergence of personal and academic and professional interests all in one place to share with students in hopes they can learn life lessons, human lessons, and communications lessons, too.
“I wasn’t much older than these students when my world changed as I saw the World Trade Center towers fall on 9/11,” Vincent added. “Living and working in New York then, and in the months that followed, fundamentally changed my life outlook. I hope that by discussing historical, cultural and political communications business perspectives, these students can learn to appreciate the good and bad in the world and use their professional communications talents to effect change and impact our world in a positive way.”
Vincent noted, “This course, this trip, this opportunity for Gayatri – none of it would be possible if not for people like Amber Moser, who organizes the logistics of more than 20 site visits and shadow days while we are in Florida, as well as David Bockino, the current Communications Fellows director. Of course, this is all made possible by the support in time and money of Elon University and the School of Communications, which dedicate time and money for out-of-classroom experiential learning.”
Formerly of the Student Professional Development Center, Moser has served as the School of Communications internship director since December.
Chopra commended Elon and the Communications Fellows program for providing her opportunities to grow, develop and learn.
“Receiving this scholarship allows me the chance to represent the foundation, and I have Elon to thank for connecting me to the organization,” she said. “Being a Communications Fellow has really opened doors for me and allowed me to learn so much outside a traditional classroom, and it’s only been a year! I am very grateful to be at Elon and get all these opportunities through the Fellows program, and I appreciate Hal Vincent and Amber Moser for taking my Fellows class to Florida to create so many connections.”