Opening Day ceremony signals the start of a year filled with hope

Faculty and staff gathered in Schar Center on Monday morning to celebrate the accomplishments of three Elon Medallion recipients and two endowed professorships, as well as hear President Connie Ledoux Book's opening address.

Hope was the theme of President Connie Ledoux Book’s Opening Day address to the Elon community on Monday, coming after more than two years of pandemic-related protocols and maneuvering.

“We begin the 2022-23 academic year with a sense of hopefulness inspired by the common reading, ‘Factfulness,’ which offers us a path to overcoming our dramatic instincts — to see that the world has changed for the better,” Book said.

Book’s remarks came on Opening Day, the official start to a new academic year that includes the arrival of the Class of 2026 on Friday, which with 1,715 incoming first-year students will be the largest in the university’s history. Opening Day also launches Planning Week, a period for Elon faculty and staff to prepare for a new year.

Elon University SGA President Nadine Jose rings the ceremonial bell at the Opening Day ceremony Monday, August 15, 2022, at the Schar Center. Three Elon Medallions and two named professorships were announced and followed by the President’s Address.

The new academic year begins as Elon’s students, faculty and staff have overcome many challenges related to the pandemic. As Elon rises from this challenging period, Book expressed gratitude for those who make such a resurgence possible — citing the name of Medallion Plaza. Adjacent to the Lakeside Dining Hall, the plaza was renamed in August 2021 as a visual reminder on the campus of the “power of the individual contributions to the success of our important work with students.”

“With a factual mindset and a good liberal arts education, we each have the power to recognize the progress we’ve made and embrace the challenges we still have knowing that we can indeed make the world a better place,” she said. “And that mindset is hopeful.”

The Boldly Elon strategic plan has served as a tangible guide toward this hopeful future Book described. With the promise of magnifying the transformative power of student- and learning-centered relationships made in the Learn theme of the Boldly Elon plan, the university is undertaking a broad mentorship initiative” with the Mentorship Design Team working to design, pilot and suggest the next steps for a multi-year plan devoted to supporting high-quality mentoring. Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Jeff Stein and Professor of Psychology Buffie Longmire-Avital are the co-chairs of this team.

Conducting surveys with staff, faculty, students, parents, alumni and the vast Elon community, the team found that deepening relationships and mentoring was Elon’s key attribute.

“Decades of research have demonstrated that meaningful relationships in college increase and enhance learning, retention, graduation, identity development, belonging and well-being,” Stein said. “We know that mentoring is also a critical tool in addressing inequity for students, faculty and staff. And … we know that it’s a relationship-rich campus filled with dedicated mentors, well-constructed opportunities for reflection and nationally recognized engaged learning programs.”

But there are several things we don’t know, which is what the team seeks to discover.

“What we don’t know is how mentoring efforts on campus are connected to equitably ensure all students have access and on-ramps to mentoring; how to enhance and amplify peer-to-peer mentoring for faculty, staff and students; how to provide everyone with mentoring professional development,” Longmire-Avital said. “In other words, how to build a mentoring ecosystem across the university.”

Following the Opening Day address, all faculty and staff were invited to participate in brief listening and brainstorming sessions on best mentoring practices.

President Book offered updates on the addition of new majors and minors to Elon’s curriculum in various schools and departments. One change that will affect the entire university is the addition of “equitable thinking” as a core learning outcome and an advancing equity requirement to support that learning outcome. Faculty overwhelmingly voted for this addition to the curriculum in May.

A deep commitment, $90 million to be exact, to advancing STEM has also been made at the university, Book said. The new Department of Engineering and the Physics Department now have as their homes Founders Hall and Innovation Hall, new state-of-the-art centers for research and cross-disciplinary collaboration in the Innovation Quad.

A significant remodeling of Dalton L. McMichael Sr. Science Center is also underway for the science disciplines remaining in the building — biology, chemistry and environment sciences. The Gerald L. Francis Center and the School of Health Sciences welcome their second class of nursing students and renovated spaces to support hands-on learning.

Elon has yielded considerable interest from other higher education institutions, with the Chronicle of Higher Education publishing a dataset showing that Elon was named a peer by 47 schools, significantly more than most other schools.

“Board chairs of other universities … told me that their school is looking for Elon’s student-centered leadership and how to build or deepen it on their campuses. Not too surprising,” Book said. “Elon is one of the most-watched universities in the country. I am proud to share and promote our model because our model advances student success and that is good for higher education.”

Elon University President Connie Ledoux Book, center, chats at the Opening Day ceremony Monday, August 15, 2022, at the Schar Center. Three Elon Medallions and two named professorships were announced and followed by the President’s Address.

With well-being poised to become one of the most important issues of the next decade, the theme of thriving is one Elon has emphasized, strengthening its efforts to support wellness and create a healthy community. The university is launching the HealthEU initiative that focuses on wellness in six dimensions – community, emotional, financial, physical, purpose and social. More details about the initiative will be shared soon.

“This program invites all of us — students, faculty and staff — to engage in practices that support mental and physical health, financial health and social health,” Book said.

Eric Hall, professor in exercise science, along with Vice President of Student Life Jon Dooley and Campus Architect Brad Moore, led a team that is reconsidering campus facilities to integrate multiple programs connected to well-being. Additionally, support for the American Asian and Pacific Islander communities and various multifaith groups on campus will be considered going forward with recommendations from respective task forces to be shared in the coming weeks.

Noting the exponential growth in the Campus Alamance program, the genesis of the Alamance Scholars initiative and the continued success of the Village Project and the Elon Academy, the university is dedicated to becoming an even stronger community partner, Book noted.

Book shared the outcomes of innovative efforts in admissions which resulted in Elon’s largest ever incoming class, along with 101 transfer students, another university record. The Inn at Elon Scholarship has awarded over $800,000 to students and the largest Odyssey Scholars cohort of 48 students is a direct result of the Elon LEADS campaign, which will complete in December having already eclipsed its $250 million goal.

Elon University President Connie Ledoux Book delivers her address at the Opening Day ceremony Monday, August 15, 2022, at the Schar Center. Three Elon Medallions and two named professorships were announced and followed by the President’s Address. (Rob Brown photo)

“The efforts of so many of you are ensuring Elon’s bold future. It is a hopeful time, an exciting time for our community as we emerge from the last two years with a clearer understanding of our mission, our strength and our resilience,” Book said.

The president’s remarks followed the presentation of three Elon Medallions, the university’s highest honor, and the official announcement of faculty members named to two endowed professorships.

“The practice of awarding medallions and professorships on Opening Day is a celebration of the transformative contributions of members of our community who have changed the trajectory of the university. We pause to acknowledge that we each benefit from the legacies that medallion recipients created during their time at Elon,” Book said.

Elon Medallion recipients

  • Jane Deaton, retired comptroller and special assistant to the vice president for finance and administration
  • Jeffrey Pugh, professor emeritus of religious studies and Distinguished University Professor
  • Paul Parsons, dean emeritus of the School of Communications and professor emeritus of journalism

Named professorships

  • Assistant Professor of Chemistry Anthony Rizzuto – A.L. Hook Emerging Scholar in Science and Mathematics
  • Associate Professor of Finance Adam Aiken – Wesley R. Elingburg Professorship in Business