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Discovery program connects new students to Elon, each other

The first-year summer experience program offered by the Office of New Student Programs and Transition familiarizes incoming students with Elon's campus and helps them develop leadership and team-building skills before classes begin in the fall.

College is the beginning of many new experiences. Challenges such as living on your own, sharing a room, deciding a major and meeting new friends aren’t always as easy as they seem.

By scrambling over rocks on an 8.8 mile hike, canoeing seven miles down a river, cleaning a sports park, irrigating a water drainage channel, painting two small bridge floos, and clearing various flower beds at the town of Luray’s greenway, 19 incoming students chose to jump start their college experience in a positive way in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Elon’s Discovery Program, a first-year summer experience program offered by the Office of New Student Orientation and Transition, familiarizes incoming students with Elon's campus and helps them develop leadership and team-building skills before they begin classes in the fall. This year, the program was led by student facilitators Kim Lilienthal '14 and Jessica Jones '16. Steve Morrison, coordinator of Gap Programs, and Jon Burr, an instructor in the English department, served as advisers.

On June 24, within minutes of arriving on campus, the students quickly learned how to trust and depend on one another while participating on the low-ropes course of the Elon Challenge Course. There, they learned concepts that would bring them together for a positive, unified week.

The Discovery program traveled to Luray, Va., in the Shenandoah Valley and conquered the trails of Old Rag Mountain. Accompanied by their student facilitators and advisers, the group hiked nearly nine miles, working together through a rock scramble to a 3,291 foot summit, where they encountered some of the most beautiful scenery Virginia and the East Coast has to offer.

Participants also strengthened teamwork and communication skills during a 7-mile canoe ride down the Shenandoah River and explored the history of the local Luray Caverns.

Amidst developing leadership and teamwork skills, the students put these skills to work as they assisted the Town of Luray Parks and Recreation in performing a variety of service projects as the town prepared for their annual Fourth of July celebration weekend. The students took this opportunity to learn from each other, practice necessary skills for beginning their college careers and giving back to the town that has been hosting the Discovery Program for 12 years.

Beyond adventures through the wilderness and service, upperclassmen facilitators guided new students on discussions, ranging from involvement opportunities, the Elon Honor Code, academic rigor and being an active contributor in the Elon community.

Despite only spending one week with each other, the students gained trust and formed friendships that will last forever. Determination—and pushing through obstacles—helped each participant realize that even though college is a significant transition, they have peers who will be a support during their transition.

Participants wrote in their evaluations: “I can do anything I set my mind to and everyone is awesome no matter their background;” “I learned that I can be a leader and follower as well as I am able to step out of my comfort zone;” and “I conquered many fears—climbing, trust falls, talking openly with people and canoeing with new friends. Camping was a fairly new experience but now is one that I am more comfortable with.”

For these 19 first-year students, getting ready to start a new chapter in their life, Discovery helped ease worries about roommates, friendships and learning about academic expectations before coming to Elon. In a way, their first glimpse at college life was a discovery, through leadership, service, discussion and teamwork.

Discovery participants included Jane Baffi, Emily Clerkin, Jeff Crowell, John Curtis, Chloe Donohoe, Caroline Fernandez, Joshua Fritz, Graham Goslin, Meghan Greene, Stephen Idol, Turner Kendall, Matt Kerr, Jack Pasi, Grace Pressley, Katherine, Prusator, Lauren Sollenberger, Jordan Solomon, Dimitrios Vlahos, and Ashlyn Vogelsang.

Steve Morrison,
7/9/2013 4:15 PM