Summer 2021: Strengthened by Fire

President Connie Ledoux Book reflects on the university's strengths and values that served as the foundation for its strategic plan, Boldly Elon.

President Connie Ledoux Book speaking Feb. 12, 2020 at the special College Coffee to launch the Boldly Elon strategic plan.

Fourteen days. Just two weeks after announcing Boldly Elon, our 10-year strategic plan, with a campus celebration and sense of optimism and confidence, we issued this very different campus notice on February 25, 2020:

“In response to news of growing numbers of novel coronavirus cases in northern Italy, Elon University will suspend its study abroad program in Florence for the semester … The decision comes after the number of confirmed cases in Italy rose from a handful to more than 300 within a matter of days.”

As the pandemic took hold across the world and we slowly began to grasp its impact, there was little time to think a decade in the future. The threats were immediate and frightening.

There was no playbook to follow. Our days were filled with the tactical rather than the strategic, planning how to send students home and complete the semester remotely, followed by the countless details of safely reopening campus for fall semester.

But in the days and weeks of regaining our institutional equilibrium, we did not forget the bold plans made over 18 months of intense community visioning. We began taking our first steps toward meeting those goals, but with a measure of caution and some known uncertainty. Was the Boldly Elon vision for 2030 still valid? Had things changed so fundamentally that we needed to reconsider our strategies?

Known Unknowns

I believe in the importance and power of process. While each of us, from time to time, will take a wrong turn, we are likely to avoid those mistakes and find greater wisdom in deliberately engaging many people in careful consideration and collaborative dialogue.

Certainly, none of the 2,500 students, alumni, parents, friends, faculty, staff, board and council members, and community leaders who took part in the creation of Boldly Elon anticipated the global pandemic just around the corner. It was not among the many threats and risks we considered as we peered into the crystal ball.

But our community had the wisdom to know that there were things hidden from view — a concept that strategists refer to as “known unknowns.” Our challenge was to create a strategic plan built solidly on Elon’s strengths and values. No matter the threat that we could not foresee, Boldly Elon was conceived as a plan that would weather the storms we knew were in our future (just not so soon!).

Even Stronger

As we begin the 2021-22 academic year, the prescience of Boldly Elon is coming clearly into focus. We are proud that we were able to make significant progress on our goals, even as we navigated a turbulent year. In addition, we are beginning to realize that the vision in this strategic plan will allow our university to emerge from the pandemic as an even stronger and more resilient institution.

  • We had the foresight to launch new nursing programs just as we gained a deeper understanding of the tremendous health care needs of our society, laid bare as doctors and nurses were overwhelmed.
  • Data science and literacy became an even greater part of our daily lives as we tracked the epidemiology of the pandemic and searched for data-driven solutions, so our Boldly Elon goals for enhanced data education position us well.
  • Government and business investments in infrastructure will be a driving force in economic recovery from the pandemic, so our new initiatives in engineering programs and the construction of the Innovation Quad are perfectly timed, as we create a hub of ingenuity that fosters collaborations involving water research, clean energy and sustainability, invention and entrepreneurship.
  • The concept of personal well-being became a lifeline to many as they coped with the overwhelming emotional and physical stresses of the pandemic, so the Boldly Elon goals to provide greater wellness resources and support for our community seem especially on target.
  • Our nation’s reckoning over issues of diversity, equity and inclusion is fully aligned with Boldly Elon goals to enable all members of our community to thrive and reach their full potential, free of discrimination.
  • The tremendous financial challenges facing higher education greatly intensified throughout the pandemic, so our plans to expand Elon’s student recruitment, raise greater support for scholarships as part of the Elon LEADS Campaign, and increase the value and reputation of our university will be essential.
  • The remaking of the economy in the post-pandemic era is causing many to reconsider the nature of work and the meaning of vocations, so Boldly Elon’s goals to develop lifelong learning opportunities for alumni and our local community are helping build new and stronger networks within the Elon family. Similarly, new ways to support our faculty and staff will allow us to continue to attract and develop the talented professionals who are the lifeblood of our university.

Were we clairvoyant? Or just lucky to have created a plan that is already responding to a pandemic none of us saw coming? It wasn’t luck. Our community built Boldly Elon with a deep understanding of the power of experiential learning and mentoring relationships. If anything, the pandemic made even more clear that these foundational characteristics of Elon are central to our vision for the future.

While others struggle to regain a sense of normalcy and anxiously wonder about the future, Boldly Elon provides us with a clear and sharp vision that is even more urgent and compelling than the day we announced it. In the pages of this special edition of the Magazine of Elon, you will read details of our plans for the 2020s and beyond. This is our time and Boldly Elon is our vision. Strengthened by the fires of a global crisis, like the Phoenix we will rise to greater heights.

Connie Ledoux Book