Campus Alamance: Sarah Rusthoven ’23 credits initiative for helping ‘burst the Elon bubble’

Rusthoven, a communication design major, interned with Alamance Arts for the eight-week Campus Alamance program.

The Campus Alamance initiative provides students the opportunity to take the skills they’ve acquired at Elon to go out into the community and apply those skills working with some of the university’s most important community partners. 

Several of the 40 interns who participated this summer shared their experience in the program and the lessons they’ve learned working in the community for eight weeks in this series of articles for Today at Elon. 

For Sarah Rusthoven ’23, the Campus Alamance program has provided an experience that’s more than an internship.

“I wanted to do something in the community. It’s important to burst ‘the Elon bubble,’” Rusthoven said. “I like that this program is called Campus Alamance because it’s about making Alamance County your campus, your learning space. Outside of Elon, what kind of connections can you make in the community?”

Rusthoven was one of the 14 students in the original cohort of the Campus Alamance program, which launched in 2021, and returned this year to broaden her experience. The program has nearly tripled in student participation and doubled in employer participation a year later, and Rusthoven has honed her communication skills this summer as an intern with Alamance Arts while also getting her out of her Elon comfort zone.

The communication design major has forged connections with various nonprofits in the area by assisting with their community development work, such as assisting in the planning of a summer children’s art camp and Esperanza, a Hispanic Heritage Month festival which Rusthoven will continue to assist with even after her internship has finished.

Providing 40 Elon students with internships from 28 community partners, the Campus Alamance initiative is headed by the Student Professional Development Center and the Kernodle Center for Civic Life. Students worked 20 to 30 hours per week for the eight-week program and attended weekly professional development sessions hosted by Elon. The program is designed for all Elon students, regardless of grade or major and each student involved is given a $2,500 stipend from the university.

Campus Alamance intern Sarah Rusthoven at Alamance Arts in Graham, N.C. on Monday, July 18, 2022.

Making new experiences and gaining insight into new perspectives is what has motivated Rusthoven to be a part of the Campus Alamance project in the first place. Elon’s intentionality about getting its students into the community – which is even supported in the Boldly Elon strategic plan – has only deepened her commitment to the program.

Rusthoven’s daily duties include working on the center’s newsletter, the annual report brochure, social media posts and event planning. Before her internship, she hadn’t thought about a career in galleries or community art centers, mostly because the focus of preparation in her classes was for more corporate outcomes.

“I’ve liked learning about nonprofit work and getting that experience when Campus Alamance does promote. It’s not saying that there’s only one way to be successful, but you can potentially work in the nonprofit sector and still be successful,” she said.

Karen Carrouth, the outreach coordinator for Alamance Arts, worked closely with Rusthoven during both of her stints as an intern for the gallery. When Carrouth found out that Rusthoven wanted to return to Alamance Arts for a second year, she encouraged her to get more experience with another employer.

“I was very flattered and honored that Sarah chose to come back here,” Carrouth said. “ But I said to her, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to go try out something new, something you haven’t conquered before?’ But she was adamant and so I gave up. And I’m glad I gave up because she’s a great fit here.”

Carrouth said Alamance Arts has gained so much from the interns it works with, and the same is true of Rusthoven. Alamance Arts treats all of its interns as full members of the team. Applying what she learned last summer, Rusthoven jumped seamlessly into the flow of things at Alamance Arts.

“She stepped right in and remembered everything and that was very helpful. Sarah also grew with her creativity with social media. I think a year did make a difference,” Carrouth said.

Rusthoven said she’s been able to get a glimpse of what all goes into running a community arts organization. Collaborating with other organizations and dealing with artists and community members have left her with experiences that she wouldn’t have gotten without the internship.

“If I was doing a normal job on campus, I wouldn’t have been exposed to different things like that,” Rusthoven said. “Every Elon student should have an experience like this by the time they graduate,” Rusthoven said.