When COVID-19 hit, Elon University responded with E Company

This summer, the university’s innovative E Company program leveraged the time and talents of Elon students to meet the needs of local K-12 students as well as to assist with preparations for fall semester.

Chandler Vaughan ’21 worked with Elon’s “Virtual Village” summer program. Her students, local high schoolers, focused on researching and promoting ways to use empathy to combat racism.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of life. For many college students, this included disruptions to their summer internships or job plans and new economic pressures at home. For Alamance County K-12 students, the pandemic meant new learning challenges.

In an effort to provide assistance to its own students and Alamance County schoolchildren, Elon University launched E Company, an innovative new summer program designed for students experiencing canceled internships or economic hardship due to the pandemic. The program leveraged the time and talents of these Elon students to provide educational support to Alamance County children and to assist with the university’s preparations for the fall semester.

Rohan Wilson ’22 was among the Elon students who worked with the It Takes a Village project through E Company.

“E Company is creating opportunities for these students, some of whom saw internship opportunities disappear due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said President Connie Ledoux Book. “Now they’ll be engaged this summer and can take advantage of experiential learning experiences while serving our community during this challenging time.”

Through E Company, nearly 50 Elon students worked with the “It Takes a Village Project,” the university’s summer enrichment project for a diverse population of local K-12 students, many of whom find school to be daunting, and who come from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. The Village Project shifted its impactful Summer in the Village Project online due to the pandemic, a move made possible by the addition of these E Company students. This summer enrichment program is especially important for children who may have fallen behind in their learning when K-12 schools moved to online instruction.

Operating out of the university’s Center for Access and Success, the Village Project takes a collaborative approach to assisting students and their parents with academic support. Each year, the two-week Summer in the Village typically brings students to campus for a two-week lineup of tutoring and learning sessions with local teachers, Elon faculty and staff and student volunteers.

This year, these E Company students were fully engaged in the “Virtual Village” as about 200 K-12 students from Alamance and Guilford counties participated in the summer enrichment program online. The Elon students participated in daily planning and preparation sessions with local teachers, supported teachers during online group learning sessions and led small-group and one-on-one tutoring sessions each day from June 15 through July 10. They worked four hours daily during the four-week program.

“We tried to mimic as best we could the work we would normally be doing on campus during Summer in the Village, and these Elon students are critically important to being able to do that,” said Jean Rattigan-Rohr, vice president for access and success.

Students in E Company worked with local K-12 students online each day during the four-week program.

Shalexzandra Dunkley ’22 is majoring in biomedical engineering and had begun exploring summer internship opportunities when the pandemic hit. She quickly saw those opportunities dry up, but learned of the opportunity to work with the Virtual Village through E Company and found the opportunity to work while also serving the local community appealing. She worked daily with fifth graders and assisted a teacher in the Virtual Village. Along with the math and reading, she helped her students with, she was able to draw upon her own academic background to incorporate science into her daily small group sessions.

“This is a great opportunity to give back and also to help the kids,” Dunkley said. “It’s so rewarding to spend this time building relationships with the kids and the other teachers involved. What a great chance to be there for each other during this difficult time.”

During the academic year, Rohan Wilson ’22 has worked with Alamance Burlington School System students through the Village Project, and E Company offered him a way to continue that work this summer. The ability to be in service to the community and assist these students during a time when learning is challenging was the biggest draw.

“It can be challenging to learn virtually, but this is definitely worth it because I can see how the students are learning,” said Wilson, an Odyssey Program scholar at Elon. “I know the importance of having a tutor when you’re struggling. I want to be there for these students because I used to struggle in school, too.”

E Works interns assisted with video production during the summer as the campus prepared for the fall semester.

E Company was also designed to assist with the extensive preparations on Elon’s campus for a return to in-person learning in the fall. As part of the initiative’s E Works division, nearly 20 Elon students worked 35 hours a week from June 29 through July 31 with the university’s Information Technology and Physical Plant departments. They served in positions tasked with assisting with social media, video production, technical operations, recycling and waste reduction, and landscaping. Interns assisted with producing training modules for students, faculty and staff as they prepare to return to campus, and showcase preparations on social media.

Abby Gibbs ’21, a journalism and political science major, participated in E Works and was tasked with overseeing the social media channels for Physical Plant with an emphasis on expanding reach and documenting preparations for the fall semester. That included developing a year-long social media plan for the department.

“I’ve had the opportunity to dive into multi-platform content creation,” Gibbs said. “By learning how to expand our audience online and package information on our efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, I’ve developed skills that will carry me through my next career move.”

Gibbs noted that a key element of the experience was getting to know the hardworking Physical Plan staff members that serve the campus community. “They are on the front lines every day, and they truly keep our campus afloat,” Gibbs said. “Overall, I’ve taken away from this experience that an important part of my role is to listen and to inform our community of their incredible work.”

E Works interns also working with the Physical Plant’s landscaping crews during the summer. Interns also showcased the work of Physical Plant staff on social media.

E Works interns were also provided the opportunity to spend five hours each week working on a specially designed program to help them meet the experiential learning requirement in the area of leadership.

Planning for E Company began this spring as it became apparent students would see their summer plans deeply impacted by the pandemic as well. Many students were also seeing their family finances upended by COVID-19, creating new economic pressures at home.

Tom Brinkley, executive director of the Student Professional Development Center, said as many companies moved to remote work they shed their summer internships due to the business disruptions and the inability to have more direct oversight of interns. Some internships have been able to be adapted for students to participate online, and other companies shifted the start of internships to later in the summer or even the fall. Many internships had to be canceled, he said.

“It’s been a disruptive summer for students who are interested in internships, and we needed to create alternative types of experiences for them to take advantage of,” Brinkley said.

Nancy Carpenter, assistant director for student employment and internships, said nearly 200 students applied for the nearly 70 slots in E Company. She heard from students who had lost an internship for the summer, even one who had lost two, or whose plans to work at a restaurant or in retail were derailed by the pandemic.

“We have heard from so many students who are facing very daunting challenges,” Carpenter said. “This program is going to provide them support and a very attractive addition to their resume during this difficult time.”