Odyssey Program ‘family’ shapes student’s success before and after graduation

Nicholas Moon ’20 shares how Elon’s Odyssey Scholarship Program builds long-term relationships that create powerful opportunities. Deepening scholarship funding is one of the top priorities of the Elon LEADS Campaign.

Nicholas Moon ’20 is spending his time these days at home in Maryland studying for the first of a series of intensive exams required to become a certified public accountant. He says preparing for and taking the four exams during the next 18 months is one of the most difficult academic and career challenges he’s faced to date. It’s something he views as just another obstacle on a lifelong journey to success.

Moon graduated from Elon in May with degrees in Accounting and Finance, and this September he begins his career as an income audit and assurance associate with Baker Tilly in Washington, D.C. He credits his time in Elon’s Odyssey Program with getting him to this point in his life.

“Without the Odyssey Program scholarship, I don’t know where I would be or what I would be doing right now,” Moon says.

Moon arrived on campus in the fall of 2016 as a Jessie Thurecht Hook ’46 Scholar in the Odyssey Program. It is a life-changing scholarship based on academic achievement and high financial need. It is an extensive, cohort-based program that creates a family atmosphere among Odyssey students that fosters mentoring, friendships and personal growth. The scholarship also includes access to one of the Elon Experiences engaged learning programs such as study abroad. Increasing funding for Odyssey and other scholarship programs is one of the priorities of the Elon LEADS fundraising campaign.

All the hallmarks of the Odyssey program generated a pathway to success at Elon even when the road had a few bumps, Moon says.

“The mythology of ‘Odyssey’ entailed a journey of Odysseus after the fall of Troy. He experienced obstacles preventing him from reaching his family in a reasonable amount of time. However, along the way he overcame each obstacle with the help from others,” Moon says. “In terms of my experience with Odyssey, despite all the obstacles that I had to confront, with the support of those around me, I was able to propel my success.”

That’s how the Odyssey Program is supposed to work, says Marcus Elliott, who was assistant director of the program when Moon arrived at Elon and is now Odyssey’s director. He was an important mentor during Moon’s time on campus.

“The accountability-based mentality of the program is designed to support one another and to have a ‘home base’ of like-minded individuals who understand each other. This is vital to the journey that each of our scholars is on throughout their time at Elon,” Elliott says. “Nicholas thrived in that environment. Having a family, that home base, really empowered him to continue to push through and take advantage of all the opportunities that presented themselves to him.”

Those opportunities included two internships that were pivotal to establishing Moon’s career goals, one leading directly to his post-graduation job.

Family matters 

Growing up in Silver Spring, Maryland, Moon was the kid who enjoyed dental appointments. “I loved going to the dentist. I loved science and I loved math,” he says. When he began looking for a college to attend, he planned to study biology in hopes of ultimately going to dental school and becoming an orthodontist.

Moon says he applied to a dozen schools looking for the right fit — a good student-to-faculty ratio, a family atmosphere and opportunities to have a social life. Much of his decision would depend on financial aid through scholarships. Attaining the Odyssey Program scholarship made his decision to attend Elon easy.

“I vividly remember getting the call (from Elon). I came out of baseball practice during the spring and got a call from a North Carolina number. I was with my friends and answered the call. They told me I had received the scholarship. I knew what that entailed. I knew the description of what Odyssey is and what it meant,” Moon says. “I didn’t make the decision on the spot, but I knew Elon would be the place for me. It was a great moment and something I’ll never forget.”

First-year Odyssey students get a taste of campus a few weeks before Move-In Day. Many are first-generation college students with limited experience on a college campus. They spend a week with other students in the program, attend events led by faculty or staff and develop relationships with a student mentor. Moon’s mentor was Pete Victoratos ‘19 and Moon says they are still in contact today. The week set the tone for his time at Elon.

“They have faculty speak to us. They expose us to their perspective on things and the transition to college. We explain our past. We see how we can relate and develop that friendship before coming to school,” Moon says. “Coming to school can be overwhelming. Coming down for a week in advance makes you more comfortable from the start before you get overwhelmed by it all.”

The week gave Moon the start and confidence boost he needed and was important throughout his Elon career. He ultimately applied to be a summer mentor and filled that role for five students in 2018, says Catherine Parsons, assistant director of the Odyssey Program.

“Nick and Pete got along so well and as a result, Nick wanted to be a mentor, too,” Parsons says. “When he applied to become a mentor, he was so authentic and so complimentary of Pete that I thought if anyone got a lot out of Odyssey Week it was Nick.”

Elliott agrees. “A lot of that confidence and the ability to really make a mark on the campus started with his relationship with his ‘day ones’ as we call them, people in Odyssey and his peers,” he adds.

Changing course 

Moon admits to hitting a few roadblocks during his first year and credits then-director Esther Freeman, Elliott and Parsons with keeping him focused on his goals, including a redefinition of his career path. He initially decided to major in biology as a route to dental school. But after taking a few courses, he decided biology didn’t play to his strengths. He began looking for a new major.

“It was definitely a hard transition. I talked to a lot of people about it. I talked to Esther. I spoke to Marcus and Catherine. They knew I had strong characteristics in different fields. They provided me with certain guidance to make the transition as easy as possible,” Moon says.

Elliott says Moon was struggling with biology, “just pushing through, doing what he had to do.”

“He started talking a lot about what he wants to do and what impact he wants to make,” Elliott recalls. “We just tried to lean him toward that direction, expose him to some programs we have that he could watch and maybe thrive in. One is a financial empowerment series when a Finance professor comes in and talks about different strategies about how to budget effectively; how to negotiate buying a car; understanding fundamental principles about what an employment offer looks like in different cities by looking at what it costs to live there. Dr. Chris Harris in the Love School of Business opened him up to a career in accounting and finance.”

Moon says he also realized that solving mathematical problems was his strength.

“At that point I decided to look at Business. I knew Elon had a great Finance program and accounting would be a springboard to a career. Every business needs accountants,” Moon says. “I wanted to go down that route. I graduated with a double major so I would say it worked out pretty well.”

Each time he had a high or low point, Odyssey Program leadership was there to help, Moon says.

“The Odyssey community is very, very close. If I was doing something great or something bad, they were there to address it,” Moon says. “I made the President’s List my first year in Finance and Accounting. Esther and Marcus called me and screamed congratulations over the phone. Odyssey has that family feel that I won’t forget and can’t replace. Having those parental figures while you’re at college impacted me so much.”

A matter of Experiences 

Through the Odyssey Program and his own initiative, Moon engaged in a variety of Elon Experiences, including a study abroad opportunity in Spain, which included visits to different parts of Europe. He put his own experience to work during a part-time job as an office assistant in Elon’s Office of Academic Advising and Support, where students go for advice about changing majors, schedules or academic help. He also worked in the university’s Disabilities Services office and as a student tour guide for the Office of Admissions.

Of all the Elon Experiences, internships loomed the largest. Moon landed an internship in the summer of 2018 with National Geographic as a corporate finance intern, where he conducted research and performed presentations about new nonprofit accounting standards.

“I had just switched majors. I felt it was imperative to get exposure and experience in the field and didn’t want to spend the summer working in a retail store,” Moon says. “Internships are where Odyssey and Elon really come into play. If I was at a larger university with a larger student-to-faculty ratio, I do not believe I would have gotten the internship with National Geographic because of guidance and opportunities.”

The Elon Job Network offered through the university’s Student Professional Development Center helped Moon obtain the National Geographic internship and one with his future employer, Baker Tilly, in 2019. He also worked with staff in the Porter Family Professional Development Center in the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business.

“Elon provided me with numerous opportunities. The SPDC and Porter Center showed me how to meet employers and interact with employers. I learned that marketing and networking are essential in the business field. You have to get your name out there and be proactive,” Moon says.

Through his internships, one with a corporation and another with a nonprofit, Moon learned professionalism and organizational skills and gained maturity.

“I feel more confident going into a field now that I have these experiences,” Moon says. “I wouldn’t have been able to have it without the resources, without people wanting to help me on campus.”

Full circle

Elliott and Parsons say that Moon leaves Elon as an important role model for students in the Odyssey Program.

“One of his strong suits is his ability to relate to others as peers. His demeanor draws people toward him. The way he carries himself. A lot of people try to emulate his character,” Elliott says. “He’s a young man who definitely wants to see the best out of the people he surrounds himself with.”

That’s what makes him such a successful mentor, Parsons says. “He invests time. He’s authentically him and always available to be of support to someone.”

Moon is grateful for his Jessie Thurecht Hook ’46 Scholarship in the Odyssey Program and the guidance he gained through his mentors.

“Catherine and Marcus in the Odyssey Program, I have so much love for them. They wanted this for me as much as I wanted it myself. They also pushed me to keep my focus. They made sure I didn’t get too distracted,” Moon says. “I can’t put into words how thankful I am for the Odyssey Scholarship.”

Each year he tries to find the words in a thank you letter to the donor who made his scholarship possible.

“Having them invest in a student means a lot. And a lot of us who receive scholarships embrace that and want to make the donor families proud,” he says. “If people are investing money in me, I can’t waste it away. It kept me focused and motivated.”

Elliott says he is impressed with the way Moon used any setbacks as a catalyst to improve himself and grow during his time at Elon.

“It’s amazing to see his transformation from the summer of 2016 to today. Now he’s moving to the next chapter of his life,” Elliott says. “We’re extremely proud of him and we know he’s going to go out and do great things.”

About the Elon LEADS Campaign

With a $250 million goal, Elon LEADS is the largest fundraising campaign in the university’s history and will support four main funding priorities: scholarships for graduates the world needs, increase access to engaged learning opportunities such as study abroad, research and service learning, support for faculty and staff mentors who matter and Elon’s iconic campus. To date, donors have contributed $193 million toward the goal.

Every gift to the university — including annual, endowment, capital, estate and other planned gifts — for any designation counts as a gift to the campaign, which will support students and strengthen Elon for generations to come. To learn more about how you can make an impact, visit www.elonleads.com.