Parsons family permanently endows Founding Dean Scholarship

Established in 2018 in recognition of Paul Parsons' 17 years of service as founding dean of the School of Communications, the scholarship is awarded to rising seniors with a strong academic record.

When Paul Parsons arrived at Elon University as the founding dean of the School of Communications two decades ago, limited scholarships were available to students. In the years since, Parsons said he has enjoyed watching scholarship opportunities grow thanks to generous alumni, parents and friends. In spring 2021, Parsons and his wife, Mary Helen, made their own financial contribution, permanently endowing the school’s Founding Dean Scholarship.

Paul Parsons and his wife, Mary Helen, share a moment together in the Jane and Brian Williams Studio during an April 2018 reception to recognize Parsons’ leadership as the school’s founding dean.

Established in 2018 by advisory board members, faculty, staff and alumni in recognition of Parsons’ 17 years of service as the school’s founding dean, the scholarship is awarded to rising seniors with a strong academic record in one of the school’s majors.

Parsons’ generous endowment, which is part of the Elon LEADS Campaign, is the latest way he has positively impacted a place he often called “one of the nation’s great communications schools.” During his tenure as dean, Parsons oversaw robust growth in terms of students, faculty and staff. His tenure also saw the establishment of the Imagining the Internet Center, the arrival of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition on campus and the start of the Elon in Los Angeles program, among many other notable initiatives and awards. Enriching the student-learning experience at Elon has already been Parsons’ motivation.

“I like the idea of being able to support students on the tail end of their Elon experience – students who have already shown the promise of emerging as leaders through student media or student organizations in the School of Communications,” Parsons said.

When Parsons and his wife decided they wanted to financially support the university, numerous initiatives caught the couple’s attention. From internships to attracting and retaining incredible faculty, the decision on where to focus their gift wasn’t easy, Parsons said. But he explained that he kept coming back to the same idea over and over.

Parsons addresses audience members attending the School of Communications’ Turning 21 dinner celebration in November in Snow Family Grand Atrium.

“College is an expensive endeavor for families,” Parsons said. “Because the Founding Dean Scholarship had already been created, let’s endow that, so that the scholarships to students can continue indefinitely into the future.”

Jim Piatt, vice president for university advancement, said the “extremely generous scholarship” is a fitting way to acknowledge Parsons’ many contributions to the School of Communications.

“Dean Parsons is so humble, he would never want his name on it,” Piatt said. “He wants it to be focused on the position in the school, not his name and that’s a very humbling expression of the way he thinks.”

Rochelle Ford, dean of the School of Communications, said the scholarship is just one more way to honor Parsons’ servant leadership to Elon, adding that the scholarship itself “embodies him being a leader.”

“He was highly committed to student success, particularly through experiential learning and student media,” Ford said. “Not only did people want to honor him for founding this amazing school of communications – a role model school that others try to emulate – but that he would think so much of it to give back to others, and others would want to celebrate his leadership.”

To Piatt, what makes the scholarship most inspiring is its focus. Many scholarships are focused on incoming students, or students pursuing internships. By choosing to endow a scholarship specifically for seniors, Parsons is filling a gap, Piatt explained.

“There aren’t a lot of opportunities for students who are already here to get support,” Piatt said. “It can help the recipient as they’re getting ready to launch their careers.”

Following the conclusion of his deanship – and a sabbatical – Parsons returned to teach full time in the school, fulfilling a pledge he made to himself to someday return to a professorial role. He retired from teaching at the end of the spring 2020 semester.

In 2018, Elon’s Board of Trustees named the student media newsroom on the first floor of McEwen Communications Building in honor of Parsons.