John Pickett begins as director of Elon Academy as program enters ‘a new era’

John Pickett took over as director of the Elon Academy on June 1 following Terry Tomasek, who will continue as a full-time faculty member at Elon.

On his first official day as director of the Elon Academy, John Pickett spent the majority of his time fine-tuning the summer residential program for the 66 high school students who will spend three weeks on Elon’s campus.

This summer is the first residential event since 2019, so Pickett was excited to create an exceptional experience for students.

“We’re excited to deliver on the promise that we made the scholars and families. They’ve been really understanding about the changes that had to happen because of the pandemic but we’re excited to be firing on all cylinders again,” Pickett said. He joined Elon in 2011 as the assistant director of the Elon Academy before taking the reins from outgoing director Terry Tomasek on June 1.

“I’m excited for the leadership that John is going to provide,” said Tomasek, who served as Elon Academy director for eight years. “He’s been with the program a long time. I’ve seen him grow over the years and he’s the right person at the right time.”

The Elon Academy, which is part of the Center for Access and Success at Elon, is a nonprofit college program for academically promising high school students in Alamance County. The academy includes a year-round Saturday program for students and families as well as three consecutive summer residential experiences before a high school student’s sophomore, junior and senior years.

As an Alamance County native and 2003 elementary education graduate from Elon, local education and Elon’s role in helping local students has always been paramount to Pickett. “I grew up in this county, I really care about this county and the educational opportunities afforded to young people. And I also have that experience of being a classroom teacher,” Pickett said.

After graduating from Elon, Pickett spent eight years as a teacher with local public schools in Orange and Alamance Counties. When the assistant director of the Elon Academy position was created in 2011, Pickett decided that he would position himself as a supporter of promising local high school students with financial needs in another capacity.

“I was excited to take my knowledge of the public schools in the community and hopefully be a good steward of private funds to help supplement and address some of the needs that I had seen as a classroom teacher,” Pickett said.

As the Elon Academy enters a “new era,” Pickett is eager to lead the program through that transformation. With hopes that the worst of the pandemic has passed, Pickett acknowledges the social, emotional, mental and physical challenges created still remain. To help students recover and move past those challenges, improve and sharpen their academic skills and attend to their wellness needs while also creating a space for them to reflect will be addressed going forward.

“We’re now at a place where we can reflect a little bit about what those challenges in the pandemic mean to each of us and I think that’s something that the Elon Academy is ready and willing to do with students and families,” Pickett said.

Associate Professor Terry Tomasek helps students with origami to help them learn more about math.

Pickett recognized Tomasek for her mentorship and guidance during his time at Elon. Tomasek will transition fully back into her role as an associate professor of education but said she will always lend a hand to the Elon Academy if needed.

Tomasek became the second director in the history of the Elon Academy following Deborah Long, former interim dean of the School of Education, in 2014. Every student in the 13 Elon Academy cohorts that have graduated from high school have been accepted to college, with some of leading the way in various fields.

Seeing these high schoolers mature to become successful leaders and global citizens in their respective areas has been the most gratifying part of her eight-year stewardship of the Elon Academy.

“I’ve seen them not only go on to college and be successful, but I’ve seen them go out to graduate school and be highly successful. I’ve seen some come back to the Alamance County area and be highly successful in their jobs,” Tomasek said. “To me, that’s the best of the program. Seeing the success of the students that have been involved in the Elon Academy program.”