Six new fellows prepare for year of service with Alamance County organizations

Six members of the Class of 2021 participated in a signing ceremony at Lindner Amphitheatre to formalize their participation in the service-year program offered by Elon in partnership with local organizations. Six fellows who have completed their year of service were also recognized.

Six members of the Class of 2021 gathered at Lindner Amphitheatre on Wednesday, May 19, to formally begin what will be a year of service working with organizations that support the residents of Alamance County.

These new Elon graduates will spend the coming year as Elon Year of Service Graduate Fellows with roles that will focus on the health and well-being of Alamance County as well as furthering educational success and economic opportunity in partnership with six community organizations. This is the seventh cohort of Elon alumni to participate in the unique collaboration that is designed to lend support to these community partners while delivering valuable professional experience to the fellows. The program is jointly funded by the university and the community partners.

The gathering also focused on the work that the sixth cohort of fellows has completed during the past year — Colin Deutsch, Sylvia Ellington, Yasmeen Lee, Sydney Simmons, Lily Sobalvarro and Lallo Yadeta. Fellows from the Class of 2020 dove into their work with Alamance Achieves, Healthy Alamance, Impact Alamance, the Alamance County Health Department and Alamance Regional Medical Center just as the community and the world were entering a global pandemic.

The pandemic altered the nature of the work that many of them undertook during the year, with many duties tied to the public health response to COVID-19 and the challenges that the virus caused in the community and educational institutions.

“We were faced with unpredictability that we never knew existed and the only way we were able to get to where we are today is by being connected,” said Preston Hammock, president of Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro, who with Elon Executive Vice President Steven House helped envision and launch the service-year program. “If anything, the past year made me even more excited about this program.”

House concurred, saying that the program and its fellows have “exceeded our wildest expectations.”

The fellows concluding their service offered insight into their experience during the past year, as well as advice to the new fellows. Ellington expressed her appreciation for the team at Alamance Achieves that gave her “the grace and the space” to be successful. “They gave me the chance to be curious, make mistakes and learn along the way,” she said. “The important part is to lean into that and learn.”

Lee advised the new fellows to “question everything” during the coming year as they tackle challenges within Alamance County. “Your questions and your answers are giving way to new insights into Alamance County,” she said.

Yadeta recalled sitting at her own signing ceremony a year before, and reflected on how formative her experience since that day has been. “You simply can’t help but emerge having grown such a great deal,” she said.

The new fellows as well as their mentors signed the participation agreement at the close of the ceremony, and will begin their new roles following Commencement.

Elon Service-Year Graduate Fellows

Caren Aveldañez, Alamance Regional Medical Center

A public health studies major, Caren Aveldañez began her involvement with social justice and important local issues during her first year at Elon as a member of the Service-Learning Living Learning Community. She was involved with the Latinx Hispanic Student Union, the German Club and the Chi Upsilon Sigma national Latin sorority. She worked as a student assistant in the office of the Vice President for Student Life and participated in various internships, including the Elon University Executive Internship and the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty.

She focused her research as a public health studies major on the sociocultural context of health and illness, conducting remote research and virtual neighborhood audits to better understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on poor communities of color.

“My mentors and professor at Elon always supported and encouraged me to participate in these opportunities,” Aveldañez said. “Elon has not only provided me with a strong foundation of knowledge surrounding public health, but the university also gave me a family of lifelong friends and mentors.”

Aveldañez is eager to learn more about health disparities and their root causes and to deepen her understanding of the health care system as she works with Alamance Regional Medical Center during the next year. “Professionally, I want to learn more about how collaboration works between the various organizations, agencies and community partners,” Aveldañez said. “I envision this experience will further strengthen my understanding of health disparities and will encourage me to continue to advocate and fight for change.”

Daniel Bascunan-Wiley, Healthy Alamance

A human service studies major, Honors Fellow and member of Phi Beta Kappa, Daniel Bascunan-Wiley views his time as a human service studies major and the people in the department has having pushed him to “explore my interests, find a bit of balance, and to be the best human service professional I can be.” His Honors thesis explored a content analysis of protest tweets during the Chilean anti-government protests of 2019.

During his time as an undergraduate, he made connections across the county, from working in schools to visiting farms. His studies have allowed him to learn about food deserts in Alamance County, the fears some residents have of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and housing access challenges. “I have also learned about those same people fighting for their rights, about community organizations doing grassroots work, and about Alamance County as an exemplary site for activism and novel social programming,” Bascunan-Wiley said. “I learned that I am proud of this place.”

Bascunan-Wiley also lists his time studying in Chile and the Dominican Republic as some of the most memorable experiences while an Elon student. “I feel lucky to have had such a positive undergraduate experience,” Bascunan-Wiley says.

As a service fellow with Healthy Alamance, Bascunan-Wiley said he looks forward to continuing to strengthen the relationships he has already developed in Alamance County and to create new ones while taking a deeper dive into the field of public health. “Public Health shares a lot in common with Human Services, my major, but there are often different methods and practices used,” he said. “So, I want to immerse myself into my role and learn as much as I can while also using my own perspective to support Healthy Alamance.”

In the long term, Bascunan-Wiley would like to pursue dual master’s degrees in social work and public health.

Abdul-Malik Harrison, Alamance County Health Department

A strategic communications major, Abdul-Malik Harrison said he is completing his education at Elon with a broad range of skills and knowledge in the areas of digital media and advertising, as well as discipline, patience, confidence, working with a team and creative problem-solving. “The experience of balancing school work with other positions I have held on campus and Greek life has been a challenging yet rewarding task, teaching me accountability and responsibility,” Harrison said.

Harrison views the service-learning experience ahead of him as an avenue to give back to the community while learning more about nonprofits, health care reform and education reform. “The fellowship and opportunities for service learning are crucial to my development as a future agent of change in my community,” Harrison said.

He plans to seek a career that allows him to work within the prison system as well as with minority communities and focuses on education reform. “I want to make a lasting impact on any community I am a part of,” Harrison said.

Lucia Lozano Robledo, Alamance Achieves

Lucia Lozano Robledo, who majored in French and international and global studies, was an Honors Fellow who conducted research on the political consciousness of Latinx migrants in Alamance County. She served as a student coordinator in the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education. She credits her work with the DEEP peer-social justice education program for helping her learn to adopt an equity and social justice lens when assessing problems or systems. She credits her work as a summer and lead mentor for the Elon Academy with providing experience in a college access and success program that will enrich her experience working with Alamance Achieves.

“I am looking forward to the Elon Year of Service for the experience to be work with Alamance Achieves in education equity work,” she said. “It is my dream to work in this field and work towards making education more equitable and accessible to the most marginalized by the current system.”

She hopes to learn about how different initiatives, coalition strategies and community building can foster a more equitable education system that supports children from birth all the way into their professional careers. “I envision this fellowship helping steer my career goals through both professional experiences and relationship-building with the other fellows and mentors,” she said.

Jewel Tillman, Impact Alamance

An Odyssey Program scholar, Jewel Tillman majored in political science and during her time at Elon studied the Arabic language and the Middle East, including a study abroad experience in Cairo, Egypt.

Tillman served as a college access tutor for the Elon Academy, an experience that contributed to her passion to advance equity, access and success for youth and young adults. She interned with the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits, which educated her about the intersection of nonprofit work, philanthropy and grassroots organizing. Her work as a student coordinator in the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education provided her insight into the importance of collaboration for the betterment of the community.

Tillman views her work as an Elon Service-Year Graduate Fellow as an opportunity to continue her relationship with the Alamance County and Burlington communities as well as a chance to learn from leaders, organizations and officials who are working to improve the lives of those who live here. “Learning the complexities and relationships of community through service allows for me to be a better member of society and to advocate for improvement in my community,” Tillman said.

In the long term, Tillman plans to pursue a career in international relations, with the goal of working abroad as a diplomat.

Chandler Vaughan, City of Burlington Economic Development Department

Chandler Vaughan, a Leadership Fellow who majored in policy studies, said her studies challenged her to expand her perception of the way social systems work, and how those systems can privilege or negatively impact different groups of people. Her time at Elon has included participation and leadership roles in the Black Student Union, the National PanHellenic Council, Delta Sigma Theta and the Office of Residence Life. She served as a tutor in Elon’s “It Take a Village Project.”

In 2019, she was selected to study at the University of Bristol in England through the Fulbright Summer Institute, a highly selective summer scholarship program operating worldwide and sponsored by the U.S.-U.K Fulbright Commission.

“Collectively, every experience has shaped my ability to discern my purpose in serving as a community advocate and servant leader, while sharpening my critical thinking and communication skills,” Vaughan said.

In her year as a fellow working with the City of Burlington’s Economic Development Department, Vaughan would like to focus on how economic development can impact community health. “More specifically, I’m interested in how economic development and local policy intersect to influence educational inequities and poverty impacting marginalized communities,” she said. “I am certain that this experience will contribute to my understanding of assessing community needs with a bird’s-eye view in a future research program.”

Following her year of service, Vaughan plans to pursue a doctorate in community research and action at Vanderbilt University with the goal of focusing her research on equity and justice within neighborhoods and communities including the education of incarcerated youth or formerly incarcerated children.