Elon University to pilot new Student Dialogue Program focusing on building bridges across difference

Elon is among three other pilot schools — Alamance Community College, NC Central University and UNC-Pembroke.

Elon University is participating in the pilot NC Student Dialogue Ambassadors program, developed by North Carolina Campus Engagement, a collaborative network of 39 colleges and universities committed to strengthening democracy.

“I am looking forward to seeing the impact this program can have on campus, not just this spring but for years in the future,” said Andrew Moffa, assistant director of the Kernodle Center for Civic Life. “Having conversations across differences does not happen as much as it should and we’re proud to be part of this initiative in our state.”

Launched in the fall of 2022, the program seeks to mobilize a trained cohort of student leaders who are passionate about dialogue and civil discourse. The Dialogue Ambassadors will facilitate four to five dialogues on their respective campuses during the 2023 spring semester. These dialogues will help students practice and build the skills to engage in the open exchange of ideas with people who think differently and to find common ground for action on the major public challenges we face as a state and nation.

The Student Dialogue Ambassadors at Elon University are Clara Watkins ’25, a policy studies and economics double major, and Kylie Winterling ’26, an international business major. Each participating campus receives an activity fund and ongoing support to plan and host the dialogues. A designated staff or faculty mentor provides guidance and support to the ambassadors. Moffa will serve as the mentor at Elon.

Watkins expressed excitement at this opportunity, saying that it’s “pretty extraordinary to see a small private university taking the lead in civic engagement.”

When asked why she choose to apply, Winterling mentioned the chance “to be part of the movement towards bringing civic engagement to college campuses.”

Upon completion of their term as an ambassador, they will receive a stipend. During the fall 2022 semester and winter term 2023, NC Campus Engagement trained the students in four formal dialogue methods: National Issues Forum deliberative dialogue, Civil Dialogue (developed by Arizona State University), Braver Discussions (developed by the Braver Angels Alliance of Central North Carolina), and Living Room Conversations.

The 2022-23 pilot schools are Alamance Community College, Elon University, NC Central University and UNC-Pembroke. Each participating school selected two Dialogue Ambassadors committed to developing leadership skills, bridging divides and strengthening democracy.

“We live in a time of increasing polarization and division,” said Leslie Garvin, NCCE executive director. “At the same time, there are major challenges threatening to dismantle our communities and world. More than ever we need young leaders with the ability to build bridges and to deliberate together to develop solutions and take action.”

As part of their NC Collegiate Civics Project, NC Campus Engagement received a two-year grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation to launch the Dialogue Ambassadors program.