Elon LEADS Campaign Impact: Spotlight on Scholarships

Joey Burns ’22 credits his Horizons National Odyssey Scholarship for providing him life-changing opportunities and “comfort at the end of the day.” Increasing scholarship funding to prepare graduates the world needs is the top priority of the $250 million Elon LEADS Campaign.

When it came time for college, Joey Burns ’22 was anxious. With his older brother already in school, Burns knew the financial challenges his family faced. The Horizons National Odyssey Scholarship, created by one of Elon’s most generous families, eased his mind and created a path to Elon from his home in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Joey Burns ’22

“Without this scholarship, I most likely would not be at college, and certainly not at a great university like Elon,” Burns said. “It has allowed me to accomplish my dreams and my parents’ dreams to have me go to college. It’s also a weight off their shoulders and provides comfort at the end of the day.”

Former Elon Trustee Cindy Citrone P’17 and her husband, Rob Citrone P’17, of Southport, Connecticut, were inspired to establish two Horizons National Odyssey Scholarships in 2017 as part of the Elon LEADS Campaign. They wanted to assist students like Burns—bright, talented leaders with high financial need who have completed the Horizons National program prior to enrolling at Elon.

Horizons National is a tuition-free, academic and enrichment program that serves low-income, public school students at sites throughout the country, including Connecticut. Citrone has been associated with the Horizons program in New Canaan, Connecticut, and is impressed by their results serving disadvantaged students.

“Rob and I believe in supporting great causes and great people and organizations that have a vision and think outside the box, and we believe Elon and Horizons are a perfect fit,” Cindy Citrone said. “There is no student more perfect to receive these Odyssey Scholarships than a Horizons student. Horizons provides an excellent K-12 experience for students who might not otherwise have such an opportunity, and Elon provides the same excellent experiential learning opportunities and support for these students through the Odyssey Program.”

Elon President Connie Ledoux Book thanked the Citrones for their generous investments in Elon students.

“Cindy and Rob Citrone understand deeply the power of scholarships and programs like Horizons National to change the trajectory of students’ lives,” Book said. “The Elon community is indebted to the Citrone family and to Horizons for their partnership in preparing future leaders.”

“I’m so grateful to the Citrone family and to Horizons for introducing me to Elon and the Odyssey Program,” Burns said. “Being able to go to Elon has been the best experience in my life.”

‘A Home Away from Home’

Burns credits Elon with inspiring him to grow personally and move outside his comfort zone.

“I came to Elon a very shy and introverted person,” Burns said. “I’m not that same person who is sitting on the side and waiting. I’m active in so many things, and Elon has allowed me to figure out who I am and feel comfortable with it.”

Burns has immersed himself in campus life. He serves as an Odyssey Program mentor and as founder and president of La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc., Elon’s first and only Latino-based fraternity, which includes several fellow Odyssey scholars.

“It’s a lifelong brotherhood that gives me access to nationwide professional development opportunities and great people,” Burns said. “I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t come to Elon.”

Burns is a senior resident advisor in one of Elon’s residence halls, which has strengthened his leadership skills, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Being an RA, I’ve been able to work on my communication and problem-solving skills,” he said. “During COVID, that’s been a challenge. You have an increased workload in terms of making sure students are following university policies.”

Burns has spent a lot of time listening to students and encouraging them to participate in some of the university’s outdoor, socially distanced activities instead of isolating themselves in their rooms. He gives his future alma mater high marks for handling the pandemic.

“I think Elon is doing the right thing when it comes to dealing with COVID,” Burns said. “It’s done a really good job minimizing cases and keeping people safe, while not taking away all the social aspects of college.”

Burns also credits his growth to outstanding faculty and staff mentors, including Marcus Elliott and Catherine Parsons, director and assistant director, respectively, of the Odyssey Program. They helped guide him in his decision to major in psychology, which he said suits him well because he likes to help people. Burns also treasures the casual conversations he’s had with students and staff in the program office.

“I consider Elon to be a home away from home, if not my new home,” he said. “I feel like myself there and that I belong. I’ve also made lifelong friends, especially in the Odyssey Program. We come from the same place in terms of having financial struggles and have been able to create deeper friendships as a result.”

“Joey is excited about opportunities that come his way and he doesn’t take them lightly,” Elliott said. “As an RA this year, he’s had to deal with the changing philosophy of how you attend class and socialize, and those situations have created more opportunities for him to make some dynamic decisions and shine.”

Elliott sees the transformative power of scholarships and the Elon LEADS Campaign every day.

“I look at scholarships like the Horizons Scholarship as the pathway for these young men and women to really come into their own and showcase not just a portion of their gifts, but all of their gifts, which adds value to our campus community,” Elliott said. “These students inspire others to seek out and pursue scholarships that are gateways to a life-changing education.”

Burns was reminded of the impact of his Horizons National Odyssey Scholarship when the pandemic hit earlier this year. His mother lost two of her jobs while his father was unable to work due to an injury. In addition, two internships he had lined up for the summer were cancelled, including an opportunity to work with the university’s Elon Academy college access program. He returned home and was unable to find a job.

“The Horizons Scholarship gave me peace of mind, because I knew that no matter what was happening, I could return to Elon in the fall without a lot of struggle or sacrifice,” Burns said. “I am so grateful for that.”

The gift to establish the Horizons National Odyssey Scholarship is one of many generous commitments from Cindy and Rob Citrone, who are among Elon’s most generous donors. In 2016, the couple made a major gift to fund a Design Thinking initiative at Elon, enabling the university to infuse this innovative approach to problem solving into academic courses and student experiences outside the classroom.

The Citrones were also lead donors to the School of Communications expansion. The spacious Citrone Plaza welcomes visitors to the new communications facilities and provides an attractive connection to the Town of Elon. The couple have also previously contributed significant matching gifts during the annual Elon Day programs, helping to ensure the largest single days of giving in Elon’s history. Their daughter, Gabriela, is a 2017 graduate.

The Odyssey Program

The Odyssey Program, part of the university’s Center for Access and Success, is a highly selective, four-year program that includes some of Elon’s largest endowed scholarships. The program serves students who are frequently the first members of their family to attend college and have achieved academic success while overcoming adversity. They are consistently among Elon’s top-performing students.

Each Odyssey scholarship includes financial assistance that meets a student’s full need. In addition to annual tuition assistance, each scholarship includes a stipend for books and supplies, and a one-time $4,000 global study grant to be used for an approved study abroad or Study USA program.

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, 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.