Elon LEADS impact: Spotlight on Scholarships

Sam Martin ’24 found his career path through the Gail H. LaRose Odyssey Scholarship and Teaching Fellows Scholarship. Scholarships to produce Graduates the World Needs is the top priority of the $250 million Elon LEADS campaign.

Sam Martin ’24 mulled his career options last fall while sitting in his parents’ home in Bradenton, Florida. The high school senior knew he wanted to ultimately help people in whatever community he decided to make his future home. He thought about pursuing a medical field. He considered following his older brother and becoming a firefighter. Then his mind turned to teaching.

“I really wanted to do something where I could help people. That was my biggest prerequisite for whatever career path I chose,” Martin said.

He knew teaching would require a college degree. While higher education always seemed like a possibility, it also looked unlikely from a financial standpoint. “College was always something on my mind, but I wasn’t sure what that would look like or what would happen,” he said.

Through a family friend who works at Elon University, Martin learned about the Odyssey Scholarship Program and the Teaching Fellows Scholarship. He decided to apply to Elon and hopefully pursue a degree in the School of Education.

“My mom and I said, ‘Let’s give it a try and see what happens.’ As things started falling into place, I thought this looked like too good an opportunity to pass up, and it was the career path I wanted to follow,” Martin said. “I had visited North Carolina before, and I think it’s a beautiful state. I felt Elon would feel like home. Luckily, when I got here, it had a very welcoming feel. It was a place I knew could feel like home.”

The deciding factor for Martin was being awarded the Gail H. LaRose Scholarship in the Odyssey Program, as well as a Teaching Fellows Scholarship. The LaRose Scholarship was endowed as part of the Elon LEADS Campaign by Elon Trustee Michelle LaRose and her brother, Scott LaRose, in honor of their mother, who graduated from Elon in 1964 with a degree in elementary education. The scholarship was established to assist high-achieving students with significant financial need who are in the School of Education.

The Odyssey Program, housed in Elon’s Center for Access and Success, includes highly selective and prestigious scholarships and is recognized as a national model for serving students who are underrepresented on college campuses. These scholarships, which have been endowed by some of Elon’s most generous donors, are awarded based on academic success and high financial need.

The Odyssey Program is an extensive, cohort-based program that creates a family atmosphere among students and fosters mentoring, friendships and personal growth. These scholarships include funding for participation in one of the high-impact Elon Experiences engaged learning programs: study abroad/Study USA, undergraduate research, internships, leadership and service learning. Increasing funding for Odyssey and other scholarship programs is the top priority of the $250 million Elon LEADS fundraising campaign.

Elon President Connie Ledoux Book said she is inspired by the transformative power scholarships have on Elon students and by donors like the LaRose family who make such life-changing opportunities possible.

“We are forever grateful for Elon’s long association with the LaRose family and the profound contributions they have made to students by investing in their success while on campus and in the future,” Book said.

“Elon was the perfect fit for me, and I feel so fortunate that I’ve been able to remain part of the wonderful university Elon is today,” Gail LaRose said. “The four years I spent at Elon were among the best years of my life.”

A Life Transformed

For Martin, enrollment at Elon would be unlikely without the Gail H. LaRose Scholarship. “It made it possible for me to come to Elon,” he said. “I am extremely grateful. It’s pretty much the only reason I’m here at such a great university.”

Martin discovered the benefits of the Odyssey cohort from the beginning. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, his first visit to Elon was during Odyssey Week, an orientation opportunity for first years and their student mentors that occurs three weeks before move-in day in August.

“Odyssey Week was 95 to 99 percent of the reason it felt so welcoming. It truly created a feeling of family,” Martin said, crediting Odyssey Program Director Marcus Elliott and Assistant Director Catherine Parsons with fostering the familial atmosphere that is such a critical part of the program’s success. He also credited Elliott and Parsons with calming students during the pandemic. “Marcus and Catherine are so reassuring,” he said.

“In Florida, obviously there were some big-time spikes (in COVID cases) earlier. It was a little frightening. I pretty much stayed inside the whole time,” he said. “Being on campus and having the prospect of being exposed was kind of frightening, but once I got my rhythm, I was confident in protecting myself and others.”

Martin is looking forward to his studies toward becoming a classroom teacher. He is augmenting his classroom work by tutoring public school students from Alamance County in Elon’s It Takes a Village Project, which is also part of the Center for Access and Success. After graduation, he wants to focus on classroom teaching then transition into education administration and, ultimately, run for public office. Gaining a Teaching Fellows Scholarship got Martin off to a good start.

“It has been a great aid for me in my development as a college student and teacher. Dr. Jeff Carpenter, Mrs. Jennifer Fish and Dr. Mark Enfield have all been extremely helpful in guiding us through our first semester and what four years will ultimately look like at Elon as part of the Teaching Fellows program,” he said. “Upperclassmen and the mentors who have worked with us, like the Odyssey upperclassmen and mentors, have been nothing but welcoming and full of tips and knowledge that they have gained through their years at Elon.”

A Rich Family Legacy

Gail LaRose 64, center, was joined by her daughter, Michelle, and son, Scott, at the dedication of the LaRose Student Commons in 2019.

For the past five decades, the LaRose family has been one of Elon’s most generous families. Gail LaRose, of Odenton, Maryland, was named Distinguished Alumna of the Year in 2014 in recognition of her successful career in education and her many years of loyal service to her alma mater, including as a member of Elon’s alumni board. Her late husband, Bob LaRose ’66, was a successful entrepreneur and longtime member of the Elon Board of Trustees, serving as chair from 1997-99 and elected Elon’s first Life Trustee in 2006. Daughter Michelle LaRose, of Annapolis, Maryland, is an attorney and carries on her parents’ legacy of leadership by serving as a member of the Board of Trustees since 2012. Son Scott LaRose, of Middleburg, Virginia, is CEO, president and co-founder of Mythics, Inc.

The impact of the LaRose family’s philanthropy can be seen across Elon’s campus, from the LaRose Resources Center to the LaRose Digital Theatre in the Ernest A. Koury, Sr. Business Center, the Gail H. LaRose Odyssey Scholarship and the LaRose Student Commons in the Historic Neighborhood, built near where Bob and Gail LaRose met as students.

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 $201 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.