Eighteen members of the Class of 2025 spent close to a week at Elon during July participating in service work in the community and learning more about Elon as they prepare to begin their time at the university.
Gathered in a circle in McKinnon Hall in Moseley Center, eighteen incoming Elon students tossed a ball of yarn to each other during a recent Friday, holding on to a section, then tossing to the next person. The yarn strung between these members of the Class of 2025 along with a team of current Elon students and staff showed the connections they had all developed throughout the week during Engage, a new student program sponsored by the Kernodle Center for Civic Life.
“We’re hopeful that this experience makes you feel more equipped to begin your time at Elon,” Kyle Anderson, assistant director of the Kernodle Center for Civic Life, told the group. “Hopefully you have a better sense of campus, you’ve built some connections, and you’ve learned how you can build connections in the local community as well.”
Held each summer on Elon’s campus, Engage offers an introduction to the university and the community for incoming students. The four-day residential program headed by current student leaders provided them the opportunity to learn not just where dining halls, the library and classrooms are, but to begin to understand Elon’s place within the county and region, and the growing number of partnerships Elon has with the community.
Throughout their time at Elon, these students participated in service work with community partners including Habitat for Humanity of Alamance County and the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club of Burlington. The students also worked at Elon’s Loy Farm, where produce is grown and used by local groups including Allied Churches of Alamance County.
Workshops on campus at the Office of Sustainability and the Makers Hub provided a look at ways to be involved on campus. A campus scavenger hunt sent them across Elon’s sprawling campus, giving them a look at their university home that goes beyond the campus tours they may have participated in. The week included trips to Alamance County locations including Mebane and Graham, as well as to Greensboro in Guilford County, where they visited the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.
But beyond the programming, Engage offers a chance to begin building relationships with fellow students that have the chance to last throughout their time at Elon, and even longer. Fancy Mitchell ’25 is from Ocala, Florida, and said that her time during Engage opened her eyes to how the college experience can be a time for personal growth and connections with a much broader group of people.
“This program helped me spread my wings and show my light in a way that I felt like I was restricted from doing where I come from,” Mitchell said at the program’s conclusion. “The idea that I can see so many people’s perspectives at one time, and engage in conversation about important issues is exciting.”
During two panel discussions, Engage participants heard from students and then from faculty and staff members about a range of topics related to being part of the Elon community. During the faculty and staff discussion on the program’s final day, students heard about favorite Elon traditions, gained advice on how to manage their time as students, and learned about the range of ways to be involved on campus.
Asked about traditions, Associate Professor of Art Shawn Tucker pointed to the Spring Undergraduate Research Forum during which students, typically seniors, present their research work to fellow students, faculty and staff. “It’s really a great day,” Tucker said. “As a first-year student, you can see all these students doing amazing stuff, and it can give you a sense of where you can be in a few years working with a mentor.”
As they all held onto the single long piece of yarn connecting them all at the conclusion of Engage, each student offered a highlight from the week, with many talking about how the experience helped make them feel more comfortable as they prepare to begin their academic careers at Elon in just a few short weeks. Many talked about how the conclusion of their high school careers had been marked by virtual classes and a loss of in-person connections with their classmates and teachers.
“I’ve hardly been able to see people in person,” said Maria Ledin ’25 from Chapel Hill, N.C. “I am glad I can go to Elon this year with some familiarity, and some faces that I’m now familiar with. That is so important to me.”
Carson Pridgen ’23, a member of the student leadership team, said that the favorite part of the week for her was seeing how the students arrived not knowing each other, but depart with personal connections they will draw on when they return to campus in August to move in. “I saw these friendships and relationships develop in real time,” Pridgen said. “I think it’s really valuable that you already know these other people. You already have those familiar faces. I’m really looking forward to seeing what you guys are going to accomplish at Elon.”