Elon University

‘We Make It Our Own’: BSU 2017 Fashion Show reminds audience to live happily and unafraid in their own skin

Multimedia reporting by Mariah Posey | April 23, 2017

FullSizeRender

Since 1986, the Black Student Union (BSU) — previously known as the Black Cultural Society — has been putting on a fashion show that places Elon University students of color at the forefront. This year on Saturday April 22 at 7:30p.m. in McKinnon, sophomore Kenneth Brown, special events coordinator for the Center for Race Ethnicity Diversity Education, wanted the show to deliver a message beyond fashion. He wanted both the models and the audience to feel empowered in their skin, and chose to base the stylings off of the popular 1987 black sitcom “A Different World.”

FullSizeRender-2

Models stand together at the end of the show and receive a standing ovation.

“I wanted to allow them to see a different world,” Brown said. “A world in which we make it our own despite the things that make it seem like it’s not for us. I hope people learn that black people, we’re here. We’re trying to make a difference because this is our world, too.”

Aside from the fun elements of preppy clothing and dynamic struts across the stage, the show included several powerful segments. One in particular featured a song by Vince Staples entitled “Hands Up.” As the song repeated, “Put your hands in the air,” the models each lined up fighting the urge of their hands to give in to the requests. By the end of the struggle, their hands succeeded in their position of surrender.

Another powerful segment — which focused on business and business casual attire — devoted a portion to “black girl magic” and showed the models making confident strides down the stage, each making sure to give supportive high fives to one another as they crossed paths.

“My favorite part was the black girl magic,” said sophomore Kristin Wiggins. “No one ever talks about black girls, only about black men.”

 

For Wiggins and others in the crowd, it was refreshing to see support from multiple perspectives.

But the show didn’t stop at powerful statements. BSU staff sophomores Janay Tyson and Lana Logan also presented a $250 check to the Positive Attitude Youth Center in Burlington, North Carolina for their meaningful work with children and young adults. Tyson said that after having volunteered there and seeing the impact the center had, she realized their work was “amazing” wanted to help give back.

“Sometimes you do this work and it doesn’t get noticed,” she said.

For Brown, amongst the different things he hoped the show would accomplish, he most wanted for it to be a presentation of resilience.

“The largest portion of our history was dark and we weren’t very happy,” Brown said. “I wanted to showcase our happiness. I want people to take away that this our world and we make it our own.”

Advertisements

Elon University faculty engage in panel discussing the implications of President Trump’s missile strike on Syria

Multimedia journalism by Mariah Posey | April 12, 2017

FullSizeRender-6

Panel members left to right: Kaye Usry, Jason Kirk, Baris Kesgin, Haya Ajjan.

U.S. media coverage took an unexpected turn last week when news broke that President Donald Trump authorized a missile strike against the Assad-regime airbase. Trump said his actions were in response to the chemical weapons attack on the Syrian people, but some feel the strike was a policy reversal for the president who campaigned on staying out of conflict.

To initiate discussion and clear up lingering questions regarding the strike and its implications, members of Elon University faculty engaged in a panel Wednesday, April 11 at 4:15p.m. in Moseley 215. Safia Swimelar, associate professor of political science and policy studies, said as unfortunate as the events going on in Syria are, they need to be talked about. In moderating the panel, she aimed to provide context on the situation by discussing the humanitarian aspect as well as geopolitics and strategy, foreign policy and domestic relations under the Trump administration.

Ajjan pull“My family and I were actually glued to the TV,” said Haya Ajjan, associate professor of management information systems, speaking of when news broke last Thursday night. Just two days before on Tuesday, news coverage focused on the chemical weapons attack in Syria that killed more than 100 people. Many blamed President Bashar al-Assad and his government, considering it a war crime against his own people.

“I looked over at my husband and actually he was crying,” Ajjan said, recalling the night she first heard about the chemical attack. “We both had tears in our eyes. We cried for the more than 5,000 soles that had died. I wondered, how many babies would be orphaned today?”

Although Ajjan is unsure of the impact Trump’s strike will have on war, she said she thinks it sent an important message.

“In the past three years, we Syrians have witnessed a lot of loss,” she said. “Assad and Putin are under the belief that they could do whatever they want, as they have for years, and no one can stop them.”

What the Trump administration proved with the missile strike she said, though controversial, is that these “atrocities are no longer tolerated.”

But the problem arises in analyzing how suddenly the decision to authorize the strike was made, leaving room for uncertainty in regard to the future direction of the president’s administration.

“As faculty, as Americans, as non-Americans, we’d all be forgiven for being pretty confused,” said Jason Kirk, associate professor of political science and policy studies. “It is an extraordinary shift in the vision of Trump’s presidency, in his goals for the world.”

Kirk added, “It feels like Trump made [what he considered to be] a good decision based off what looked good to him, and those who approved based it on last week. Period.”

Kirk said it’s important to keep in mind that there is often disorganization in the early days of any administration, but feels that what the Trump administration has demonstrated so far is “extraordinary disorganization in the White House.” Part of that, he says, is due to Trump’s shortcomings with staffing members of his team.

“It’s very difficult to conduct foreign policy when you’re missing layers of bureaucracy,” he said. “People who know things about places. Government and leadership requires that.”

Later, he added, “I don’t know how much to ascribe strategy to it versus just they didn’t expect to win the presidency. And they didn’t really plan for a lot of this. They didn’t plan for the White House Easter egg hunt. They didn’t do a lot of things and I think time will tell.”

According to Baris Kesgin, associate professor of political science, the Trump administration has failed at giving consistent signaling as to their course of action.

“Even the congress at this point is not knowledgeable of the Syrian game plan,” he said. “That is unfortunate.”

Though it’s clear that Trump was trying to send a message, it’s unclear of what that message is for certain. Trump felt that Assad crossed the line by waging a chemical attack on his people, but Kirk wonders if that “line” has been definitely laid out enough for the U.S. strike to have accomplished its goal. He says that confusion may only lead to more strife.

FullSizeRender-8

This map shows how populated different parts of Syria are with individual forces of power.

“The stakes are too high,” Kirk said. “There’s an international audience to this. If people are confused by what Trump means by this, if Assad doesn’t know what lines not to transgress going forward, then he’ll either decide it doesn’t matter or he’s left in a position to continue to test the U.S. to figure out where these lines might lie.”

As foreign involvement in the Syrian conflict continues to grow, discussion around it becomes fuzzier. According to Ajjan, as the years have progressed, the plan for finding a military solution to ending war in Syria has become less and less clear.

“We used to have a plan in 2012 and in 2013, but now there are too many players on the ground,” she said.

Though Trump has taken an action he believes will prove that the U.S. won’t stand for abuse and suffering, his questionable long-term motives and haste in decision-making leaves much to be speculated.

Kirk acknowledged that there’s really no way for Americans to fully grasp how the president plans to handle foreign policy going forward, but is confident that it will one day come out.

“Part of the nice quality of having such a chaotic early administration is people are eventually going to write books about this stuff,” Kirk said. “They’re going to be tripping over each other to tell us what’s going on. We’ll just have to wait a few years.”

Pursuit of fitness: 22-year-old Mark Harris’ journey to developing a passion for health and inspiring others

by Mariah Posey | April 2, 2017

Mark Harris is a 22-year-old self-taught fitness motivator from Chapel Hill, North Carolina with more than 4,500 Instagram followers. He shares videos of his workout transformations as well as words of encouragement with his followers.

Harris wide 2

Photo courtesy of Mark Harris

Harris weight

Photo courtesy of Mark Harris

There’s one golden key to life whether pursuing happiness or any other achievable fulfillment and Will Smith said it best in the movie “Pursuit of Happyness”: if you want something, go get it. Period. At just 22-years-old, fitness motivator Mark Harris has become the champion of his own career by making his goals a priority and checking things off the list as he goes.

With a current Instagram following of more than 4,500 people with whom he shares motivational posts tracking his fitness journey, Harris aims to show people that failure is essential to any success story and that anyone willing to work is capable of succeeding.

“I’m a huge believer in if you want it, you’ll make time for it,” Harris said. “If it’s truly your passion, without any busts or doubts, you will make time for it at the end of the day.”

From skinny to built: figuring out what works

Harris began making time for what he wanted two years ago when he decided to start living a healthier lifestyle. Being the only one in his family to take a strong interest in fitness at the time, he was left to figure out the specifics on his own which he described as a “nerve-wracking” process.

Harris Pull 2“It didn’t take me til’ recently to figure things out, like eight months ago, when I really started to conduct my own studies and research what workouts work best, what benefits what muscle groups and whatever,” he said. “That’s when I really started to crack it down. I guess from failure, from trying this workout and that workout, that’s what kept me going.”

Knowing that everyone’s body performed differently, it was important for Harris to learn what worked best for him. He said although genetics play a role, strong work ethic can also yield results.

“Some people have great genetics so therefore, they work a certain muscle group,” he said. “Of course, they’re going to be able to grow faster, develop faster, get better results. And then there’s the other people who really have to work twice, even 10 times as hard, as the other person who has great genetics.

“That’s why I kept doing the transformations. It’s to show people that I basically came from nothing — skinny guy running track — to I guess a bodybuilding motivator now.”

Finding a balance between work and play

Harris suit

Photo by Caroline Brehman | Mark Harris at Elon University.

Harris says true passions require sacrifice, and as a member of the U.S. Air Force deployed in the Middle East, he is no stranger to the practice.

“Even though you have to sacrifice other things that are less important to you, you’re still going to do what your passion is at the end of the day,” Harris said. “Of course I run into lack of sleep, oh I miss this meal, that meal, but I’m so prioritized on what I want to do. People call it selfish, but it’s my passion so I don’t think that’s selfish whatsoever.”

Harris believes in the value of working hard and said slacking is not one of his cups of tea.

“I’m not a believer in kind of wanting things,” he said. “You either want it or you don’t.”

He says the best way to stay positive about what you’re doing is to not sweat the small things.

“There’s somebody out there that’s in a way worse situation than you’re in and I always think about that all the time,” he said. “Especially me being on this deployment, I’ve seen some really interesting things that’s just made me value my place in life. Valuing my opportunities, valuing my blessings. It’s really a humbling feeling.”

Although Harris has run into days where he doesn’t feel the most motivated, he makes it a point to remind himself of his purpose.

“I just consistently remind myself of what I am doing this for, how far I’ve came,” he said. “If I stop now and make excuses, how far is it going to set me up in the future? If I stop now, then I’ve basically settled. Settling is always not good, no matter which way you look at it.”

Using social media as a tool

Once Harris began seeing progress he was comfortable with, he realized he could use his results to inspire others through his Instagram account. He says the response he got was shocking.

“I had no clue that I had this many people supporting me,” he said. “You can scroll through all the comments and people are always telling me, ‘Keep pushing, keep going.’ They have my back if I need any help. And these people don’t even work out at all, and they see me posting these transformations and they want to go out and get it themselves.”

Harris pullOne supporter left a comment saying:

You’ve come such a long way and you are one of my very few sources of positivity and motivation. I do hope you always keep progressing in your journey and don’t ever lose that animal ambition of yours.

“I think that was my best comment,” Harris said. “Really caught me by surprise.”

With the support of his followers, Harris knew he couldn’t quit.

“People that don’t even work out keep telling me to keep going, keep pushing and that’s what makes me feel like I’m actually doing it for more of a purpose,” he said. “Because people have my back, I don’t really want to let them down.”

The opportunities Harris’s Instagram has provided him with allowed him to recognize its power along with that of other social platforms.

“People do not realize how much social media helps out and benefits you in the long run,” he said. “So many people shun social media, but social media actually helps you out tremendously.”

Working towards building a brand

Besides reaching his weight goal of 180 pounds and competing in the near future for natural bodybuilding, Harris wants to begin developing a brand within the next couple of years. Along with creating a clothing line, he hopes to someday own a gym of his own.

Larger than fitness, Harris wants his brand to promote messages of positivity. He encourages others to never quit, to hurdle their obstacles and above all, to know that “failing is acceptable, but settling isn’t.”

While uncertain of where exactly his passion will lead him next, Harris assures one thing:

“I’m just getting started.”

For fitness tips and more from Mark, visit his YouTube here.

‘WORK HARD NOW AND PLAY LATER’: PHOTOJOURNALIST AL DRAGO VISITS ELON TO SPEAK ON NETWORKING UP THE LADDER

Multimedia journalism by Mariah Posey | March 31, 2017

Al Drago is a photojournalist and class of ’15 Elon alumni. He is based in Washington, D.C. covering all things politics and currently works for the NYT as a contract press photographer for President Donald Trump. He visited journalism professor Janna Anderson’s class this Friday to talk about his experience at Elon and networking.

13619813_10157132155470440_2710469825212806879_n

Al Drago in Philadelphia at a Hillary Clinton event in 2015 taken by one of his friends that he shared on Facebook.

Al Drago has been working since he was 16-years-old and by the age of 17, had daily bylines. It was a family trip to Boston more than 10 years ago that provided the 2015 Elon University journalism alumni with his first photography experience. Now, after delving into photography and journalism in high school as well at Elon, he works as a contract press photographer for The New York Times covering all things politics.

During the final months of Barack Obama’s presidency, he traveled with the then-president as a pool photographer covering the transition, the inauguration and first 100 days of President Donald Trump’s term. Currently, he and two other selected photographers are responsible for following the president everywhere he goes.

This Friday March 31, Drago revisited Elon to speak and share his wisdom on branding and networking to other journalism students.

Drago's Top 8When Drago was a student at Elon, he knew that internships were key. To remain focused on them, he made a piece of paper listing the different publications he could potentially work at ranking them on the level of achievability. He knew that he could work at The Burlington Times-News easily, but at the top level he listed the ones that were his dream jobs: The New York Times and the Washington Post.

“I knew I was going to work there someday,” Drago said. “And now I am.”

He didn’t know how it would happen, but something he had learned from journalism professor Janna Anderson stuck with him: if you want to be at the top, start out on top.

“You can advance your career in the first five years out of college more than you can in the 15 years after college,” he said. “Then, when you’re 30 you can have your cushion job and relax and go to Ibiza.”

FullSizeRender-6

Al Drago speaking during his presentation.

Drago kept his career goals at the forefront of his college career spending most days outside of class and in the community shooting real stories with real people.

“My Elon experience was based around the journalism I did, the journalism I committed,” he said. “And it was great because I got a four-year archive.”

He hit the ground running joining on-campus news organizations such as The Pendulum and Elon Local News, but knew outside experience was everything.

Some advice an editor gave him was, “You’re not going to get hired off of shooting on campus because it’s a bunch of 18 to 20-year-olds and that’s not what the real world looks like.”

“I started networking day one and cold-emailed editors,” Drago said. “Of course I said I want to work for you but also, ‘I love your photos. What camera settings did you use? Hey, these are the photos I took this month.’”

Eventually, editors took notice of his work and noticed that he was improving.

“I ferociously worked,” he said. “I knew what I wanted so I worked non-stop.”

Ultimately, his drive to work and ability to put himself out there got him hired at The New Times doing what he loves for a living at the age of 24. His multiple internships at the Durham Herald-Sun, Burlington Times-News, Raleigh News & Observer and the Baltimore Sun set him apart and gave him the opportunity to continue developing new skills.

His biggest piece of advice for aspiring journalists is to put yourself out there and “know your worth.”

Find his Twitter and Instagram here.

 

Live Blog: Daniel Gilbert speaks on the science of happiness at Elon University’s Spring Convocation

Multimedia journalism by Mariah Posey | March 30, 2017

FullSizeRender

2017 Spring Convocation program

Social psychologist and writer Daniel Gilbert has achieved multiple successes throughout his career: a TED Talk which remains one of the 15 most-popular of all time, his book  “Stumbling on Happiness” that spent six months on The New York Times bestseller list, and the 2010 award-winning PBS television series “This Emotional Life” that he co-wrote which was watched by more than 10 million people. He is currently a contributor to The New York Times and NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

Gilbert has guested on a number of popular shows including “20/20” and “The Colbert Report,” but today he’s the popular guest at Elon University for its March 30 Spring Convocation at 3:30 p.m. in Alumni Memorial Gym.

Stay tuned below for live updates from the event with the most recent updates  appearing at the top.


4:29 p.m. President Lambert thanks Gilbert for speaking.

“Class of 2017, I don’t want this talk to prevent you from creating class of 2047, however.”

4:28 p.m. “What makes humans happy is a scientific fact. Instead of turning to our mothers, we should be turning to science.”

4:26 p.m. “Marriage, money and children. That’s what my mom told me was the recipe to happiness. Was she lying?”

Gilbert says she was basically correct, but happiness for everyone is different because no one is average.

4:23 p.m. “The view of human happiness that I have presented is the view from outer space . . . It might not apply to you.”

4:17 p.m. Gilbert says children have been shown to reduce happiness, especially within mothers because they do most of the work.

4:14 p.m. Gilbert recommends two of the best ways to spend money:

  • Experiences, because you can’t compare personal experiences to other people’s experiences like you can with material items.
  • On other people

“The people who bought something for mom or sis or maybe your favorite professor are happier.”

4:12 p.m. “When people are resting, people are about as happy as they are at their miserable jobs. People aren’t happy when they’re resting because their mind wanders to things they’d rather be doing.”

4:11 p.m. “It turns out that the way people spend money is incorrect.”

4:10 p.m. Gilbert says money does lead to happiness, but not sustainably.

“The first dollar you earn improves your happiness a lot,” he says, but the “amount of happiness money can buy levels off” over time.

FullSizeRender-3

A chart shown during Gilbert’s presentation showing the difference between men and women in happiness response to divorce.

4:07 p.m. Gilbert explains how men do better than women after divorce. He offers some advice: “If your husband says he’s leaving you, kill him.”

4:05 p.m. Gilbert says marriage is great investment for your happiness, as it ensures at least 15-25 more years of happiness.

4:01 p.m. “Marriage causes happiness. Married people are happier than single people.”

4:00 p.m. Gilbert asks the audience how many believe marriage causes happiness.

“Okay, so none of the young people. That’s basically 0%. And I think I saw someone raise her husband’s hand.”

3:58 p.m. Gilbert’s mother, Doris Gilbert, gave him three steps to happiness when he was younger:

  1. Find a nice girl to settle down with.
  2. Make money. “‘It would be good if you were comfortable,'” she told him. “She didn’t mean my shoes. She meant move out of the house and not be on our dime.”
  3. Have children.

“In every human culture, moms basically tell their kids some version of this.”

3:56 p.m. There are scientific measures of happiness such as electromyography or EMG which analyzes human facial reactions, but Gilbert says that best approach is the “AP-Q” method — asking people questions.

FullSizeRender-2

One of the ads shown during Gilbert’s childhood promoting happiness.

3:53 p.m. Gilbert speaks on how the many theories of happiness are wrong.

“None of their theories are based on evidence. Luckily, scientists have gotten into the happiness business. Can we use the rules of science to figure out what makes people happy?”

3:50 p.m. Gilbert speaks on the unrealistic idea of happiness our ancestors had: “Happiness is what happens when you get what you want and that never happens in this lifetime on Earth.”

He continued, “Guess what? People who have everything they want aren’t any happier than the rest of us.”

3:49 p.m. “I’ve come here today to answer the world’s oldest questions: what is the secret to happiness? It’s not a secret and it’s not the world’s oldest question. It’s actually the world’s newest question.”

3:48 p.m. Gilbert responds to his introduction.

“I don’t want to stop there,” he said. “In fact I want to hear it again and then we can all go have drinks. That was the nicest introduction I’ve had.”

3:45 p.m Associate Professor of Psychology India Johnson introduces Gilbert. She thanks Gilbert for providing her the inspiration to start her journey to social psychology for his unconventional path.

3:44 p.m. “Dr. Gilbert welcome to Elon University. Your research on happiness relays two of our main points here . . . no matter our age we always have more to learn.” – President Lambert

3:39 p.m. “Higher education matters in terms of jobs, overall wellbeing, and joy in your life.” – President Lambert.

FullSizeRender-4

President Leo Lambert speaking at the beginning of spring convocation.

3:35 p.m. Joel Harter, associate chaplain for Protestant Life; Jessica Waldman, director of Jewish Life at Hillell;  President Leo Lambert; India Johnson, assistant professor of psychology and Daniel Gilbert, Edgar Pierce professor of psychology at Harvard University, take the stage.

3:29 p.m. Michel Delalande’s “Festival Prelude” plays to initiate the Academic Procession while Elon University faculty and staff along with students to be honored begin filing in.

 

Creating a home away from home: Sylvia Muñoz’s journey from life in Costa Rica to leadership at Elon

Multimedia journalism by Mariah Posey | March 17, 2017

Sylvia Muñoz sits at her desk in her C.R.E.D.E. office.

Sylvia Muñoz hadn’t encountered “space” until she first came to the United States in 1994.  Back in San José, Costa Rica — her native country — she lived with her family of seven in a house adjacent to all of her closest friends: her cousins. At any given moment, her home was guaranteed to be full of excitement with either the noise of her sister and three brothers, her parents or her extended family members.

“When I say I am one of five, those are my siblings-siblings,” Muñoz said. “But I also grew up with all my cousins, especially on my mom’s side. We all lived next to each other. I think more than first cousins, we were also raised as sibling. I always say that I was raised with 25.”

The family model Muñoz grew up with was one that established an unbreakable bond. There were no days spent avoiding conversation over small arguments, or wasted locked behind a closed room door. The idea of having personal space, to her, is an odd and very American concept. Her best and worst days were spent surrounded by the people she loved, and she wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“Home is where the family is,” Muñoz said.

Now nearly 20 years later since first leaving home, the same values hold true and have carried over to Elon University. In her roles as interim director for the C.R.E.D.E. and director of the Spanish Center, her large family has extended even more, expanding to include faculty, staff and students.


Dirty hands and childhood fun

FullSizeRender-2

Sylvia with her parents and siblings in Costa Rica for her grandparents’ 60th anniversary.

“You’re crazy! I mean we’re going to get stuck in the middle the river,” or at least that’s what Muñoz thought her mom should have said when her often too-adventurous father spontaneously decided to cross a river in their small car.

“My dad just said, ‘Okay, we’re going to cross the river,’” but as a young girl, she figured he was only joking. To her surprise, her father meant in all seriousness what he had wildly proclaimed.

“We never did get stuck,” she said.

It was important to her parents that Muñoz and her siblings always had many experiences. Her mother, a school teacher and her father, an accountant, somehow balanced their strict and expecting nature with loving fun.

During summers, Muñoz and her siblings would spend time helping out at her father’s small coffee farm with their grandfather. The work was tough, but provided more opportunities for her siblings to create fun. Their summer days were spent playing outside and unafraid of getting dirty. Fresh fruit was everywhere — mangos, avocados, bananas — and always available to grab for a quick snack.

“This thing about washing them, that didn’t exist,” she said. “We had our hands dirty and we ate with our hands dirty. And we all made it.”

Before moving to the U.S., Muñoz never had a store-bought banana. Not having to buy fruit is one of the things she misses most about her home.


A different path than her siblings

IMG_6054

Sylvia with her extended family at her home in Costa Rica.

Muñoz isn’t sure why her mother decided to enroll her fifth-grade self in a German private school. The opportunity had not been presented to her sister or any of her three brothers. But she credits the experience for helping form her strong passions in language as well as playing a role in how she’d eventually end up at Elon.

The process to get in was difficult. After submitting her application and exam, she was one of 20 students gifted a scholarship to study at the school. The process to get there was even harder. The trip took nearly an hour, and while her parents dropped her off whenever they could, the distance often called for her to rely on her own two feet and public transportation. She’d take two buses and walk through San Jose’s red light district just to make it there.

In her eyes, the education was worth it.

In two years, her and her small class of 20 were responsible for learning enough German to understand both math and chemistry in the language. By the seventh grade, her class was mixed with both native and fluent German speaking students. Being exposed to a European education as well as the many different social economic classes and types of people broadened Muñoz’s worldview. Although she has since lost the German language, the character she built as a result of the school has stayed.

“People say Germans are cold, but I don’t think they’re cold,” she said. “I love German people. They’re very direct and that made me very direct in a lot of ways and more assertive.”

Over time, Muñoz began noticing differences between her and her sister who attended an all-girls Catholic school. After eighth grade, she decided she wanted a change and transferred to an all-girls Catholic high school as well. Though the change was drastic, she thinks it shaped her willingness to take risks.

Randy pullAt the Catholic school, she quickly linked up with a group of about 14 girls who in many ways became the leaders of the ninth grade.

“If we were going to get in trouble, it was us,” she said. “It was a group of like 15 of us that made a big noise. We were always in trouble, but in good trouble. And the nuns knew that if they wanted something done to give it to us and we would get it done. It was a good experience.”

By the end of her high school career, she was set in her pursuit of language and became an English major in college. Within the major were many exchange students from the U.S., England, and other English-speaking countries. That exposure furthered her comfortability around different groups of people.


Road to North Carolina

FullSizeRender-3

Different groups of faculty and staff that Sylvia has brought to Costa Rica with her.

After graduating college, Muñoz came to the U.S. as part of her exchange program that worked with teaching students in the public school system. She spent two years in the mountains of North Carolina before transferring to a middle school in Burlington where she became acquainted with Fred Young, the 7th president of the university at the time, who she stayed with for six weeks.

She began coming to Elon to teach some of the Board of Trustees members Spanish, which planted the seed in Young’s head for the need of a Spanish center.

“I honestly don’t know how this man knew,” Muñoz said. “He started talking about the importance of learning Spanish and during that time, the Hispanic population wasn’t as big here at all. There were none. But somehow he knew that the demographics were going to change.

“He said if a student comes to this place half an hour every day, by their fourth year they’ll be able to hold a conversation. That’s going to open a lot of doors for them.”

Muñoz agreed that the thought in Young’s head was ideal, but it was the last year of her program and she was ready to return home. After selling everything, she arrived back in Costa Rica without a thought of a Spanish center at Elon ever coming to life.

Then she received the call that would permanently land her back in the U.S.

Young had surprising news: the Board of Trustees had approved the center and were ready to get to work on it with her leading the development. Feeling compelled to take the job, she was back in the U.S. within nine months.

What Young cleverly left out was that he was also in the midst of retiring.

“He said, ‘If I had told you this, would you have come?’” Muñoz recounted.  “And I said no. I would’ve said never mind, find somebody else.”

Knowing she wouldn’t have come back, she understood why he had originally withheld the
information. But fortunately, she had a supportive administrative team behind her. She only had a couple of months to figure something out. She decided on a pilot program of conversation classes. Faculty and staff from every department were hand-picked to participate in the classes during the summer.

“In the beginning that was interesting, especially with faculty,” Muñoz said. “They were like, ‘Mmm, I don’t know.’ But after a while they loved it. It was actually presented with a couple of faculty Munoz quotemembers in a conference about El Centro and the faculty as they were presenting said:

We have been faculty for such a long period of time that sometimes we forget what it’s like to be a student. And this experience has taught us that people learn in different ways.  It’s been a humbling experience for us as faculty. And we walk into a classroom now in a completely different way just because we also have the experience of a student in an environment where we have students next to us, and most of the time they’re better than us.

“I thought that was really nice and it created a different sense of community,” she continued. “At times I could have the Provost — at the time Dr. Francis — in the same class with the vice president of admissions and then have somebody from the physical in the same classroom. In the classroom, everybody was the same. There were no titles, there was no age. Everybody was just trying to learn.”

Because of the success of the pilot program, Sylvia and her team decided that the actual center would work with a mix of faculty, staff and students. According to her, it created a model that was not yet in existence and is still nonexistent anywhere else today.

The rest happened quickly with many students joining right away. Once they established a name for themselves, they began working with more world languages. Not long after, Elon added a language requirement for students which only added to the center’s success because more students were asking for help.

“The place has a lot of potential now,” she said. “In terms of growing it, I think it has grown to its capacity in the language area because there’s only one person that teaches the language. But I think there’s a lot of potential in growing in different ways, especially now being a part of the C.R.E.D.E. The place also became a home for the international Latino students who I took on as my kids. I think being from a different place made me very aware. It’s hard to be away from home. I adopt all the students.”


A mother, leader, and support system on campus

June Shuler was lost her first day on Elon’s campus. An international student from Switzerland, she hadn’t been able to visit the school prior to attending. Her knowledge of Elon relied on what she had read and saw in photos.

“I’ve never been to North Carolina, never visited Elon before,” Shuler said. “I was completely lost and I was walking around trying to find my way because I had somehow gotten the wrong schedule. I was walking around Elon aimlessly. I didn’t even go up to her.  She noticed that I didn’t know I was doing.”

“She” happened to be Sylvia Muñoz, someone who would become important Shuler throughout her next four years at the university. That day, Muñoz asked Shuler if she was alright and after realizing that she was lost, brought her back to El Centro to figure out where she needed to be.

“I came in late,” Shuler said. “But just the fact that she was willing to stop whatever she was doing that day to talk to me to make sure I was okay, I felt like that really impacted me to feel like there was someone that really cared about students on campus.”

Now a senior, Shuler has taken an active role in the international society and formed a closer relationship with Muñoz. She has sought Muñoz out for advice and has even worked with her to organize events targeted at international students.

“I think it just goes back to Sylvia’s character,” Shuler said. “She’s just really welcoming and open, so when she asks you how you’re doing, you’re almost compelled to share and be completely honest. She has an international perspective as well so we kind of share stories and have a bonding experience over that. I always talk about lived experiences. You can’t understand someone else’s experience unless you’ve gone through that yourself.”

Another student, junior Kara Rollock, has also come to appreciate Muñoz’s support. Her initial transition to Elon had been rough. As a minority student, she felt out of place at Elon. By the end of her first year, she was ready to try another school, but after some convincing from her mom, decided to give it another semester. During that time, she involved herself in more organizations to push herself to find comfort.

FullSizeRender-1

Elon junior Kara Rollock

One of the tasks she took on was becoming a mentor for the S.M.A.R.T. program which connects incoming minority students to upperclassmen. That’s where she met Muñoz, who became her adviser after training in the spring.

“Honestly I would say that she treats me, and I think I can say for some of the other student coordinators as well, as though we’re her children,” Rollock said. “She’s just very motherly in the things that she does.”

She added that what Muñoz brings to the campus is connection. As they continued to bond, Rollock began to see her as more than a regular Elon faculty member.

“She just really, for me, has made Elon feel like home,” she said. “When I think of Sylvia, I think, ‘Okay I’m comfortable again.’ I don’t feel as if I don’t belong. I feel this is where I belong.”

Randy Williams, associate vice professor for campus engagement, said Muñoz has a natural knack for student affairs. Since joining the C.R.E.D.E., he has only seen her get better.

“When Sylvia came over here she was able to not only have more of Hispanic-Latino students come to the C.R.E.D.E., but she also brokered relationships with the black student as well and the black students sought her for support and advocacy,” Williams said. “That was really impressive. It shows that she’s able to cross cultures and races to help students and their development.”

According to him, her genuine care for her students is what makes her an asset to Elon’s campus.

“In these times of difficulty and unrest when it comes to marginalized students, people like Sylvia really emerged to the forefront,” Williams said. “We can’t pay her enough for what she brings.”

The many meaningful relationships Muñoz has been able to develop at Elon is what keeps her going. As much as she misses her family in Costa Rica, she said she knows she wouldn’t be able to find a job she likes as much back home.

“I love what I do in the Spanish center and even now what I do here in the C.R.E.D.E. as well,” she said. “You spend a lot of time at work so if you find something that you really, really love, you might as well stick to it.”

The world’s deadliest terror group is also the most uncovered — Elon University Boko Haram Panel

by Mariah Posey | Feb. 15, 2017

img_5856

We know of ISIS, of Al Qaeda, of the attacks in Paris, of the crisis in Aleppo. But what about the massive tragedy that’s been going on since 2009, caused by what the Global Terrorism Index considers to be the deadliest terror group of the world: Boko Haram? In order to initiate necessary conversation surrounding the massive terror group’s impact, the Elon Politics Forum (EPF) hosted a panel Wednesday, Feb. 15 7-8p.m. in the McBride Gathering Space in partnership with Elon African Society.

The panel answered a series of critical questions: what can regional governments and United Nations do to promote female equality; how does the country go about achieving economic equality; what do we tell those persecuted because of Boko Haram? However, amongst these, one question in particular stood out and set the tone for what the major takeaway of the event would be.

“Why aren’t international terrorists like Boko Haram being covered on an international level?” asked sophomore Thomas Armooh, moderator of the event. It was one of the few questions that evoked a passionate response out of each of the panelists.

Expanding our worldly outlook

img_5853

Photo by Mariah Posey | Boko Haram panel members: (left to right) Bridget Smith, Dr. Ariela Marcus-Sells, David Olatidoye, Muhammad Musah.

“There’s this perception that ISIS and Al Qaeda might come here and hurt Americans … but Boko Haram is focused on first Nigeria and then Africa,” said senior panelist Bridget Smith. Because there’s no direct threat to America, she explained, “They’re easy to discount. They’re easy to dismiss.”

But that dismissal is exactly the problem according to senior panelist Muhammad Musa, who says that in order to see real change, “international cooperation is essential.” As a reporter stationed in Lagos, Nigeria for eight months, Musah was closer to Boko Haram’s threat than most will ever be. He constantly covered the mass killings and wrote headlines like, “14 Murdered in Bomb Blast,” but says even he recognized the apathy around him.

Because the people of Lagos felt distant from the terror going on just north of them, they lacked consideration. When people aren’t connected, Musah said, they don’t care. For him, that is why the educational aspect of Nigeria’s conflict with Boko Haram is so important.

Education is important, but so is money

img_5844

Photo by Mariah Posey | Senior Prateek Patel introduces topic and panel members

“There has to be an effort to talk to these Islamic teachers and tell them that it’s important to take away any radicalization in teaching,” he said.

One of the issues brought up in the panel was the lack of enforced education in Nigeria and how it perpetuates the negative impact of Boko Haram by ostracizing girls who are kidnapped by them. Because these girls are often raped and end up having the children of Boko Haram members, they are distrusted and rejected. Their infiltration has become so regular that even the government can’t decipher who’s a part of the terrorist organization and who’s not.

“Although education may lead to stability, it does not lead to jobs,” Marcus-Sells said.

Often, Nigerians feel immense financial pressure and view joining Boko Haram as a quick way to get paid. Musah seconded her statement adding that, “In a country like Nigeria, if you’re not connected to power you’re not going to touch money. So you going to school is a waste of your time.”

Marcus-Sells asked why a parent would risk their source of money to send their kids through years of schooling.

“If you don’t have an answer to that question, then none of these initiatives will ever work,” she said. “It almost feels like a disservice to have them spend four years getting that education for nothing to come out of it … In order for there to be that education, there needs to be employment.”

Elon’s Role

When asked what role students can play in aiding Nigeria’s cause, Marcus-Sells advised that whenever we have the means to give, to do so in a way that goes directly to the people in need. According to her, local organizations are more effective than larger ones such as the American Red Cross.

“If you can bypass the large aid organizations and go directly to the people already there … that can be really helpful,” she said.

She encouraged students to take the initiative to further educate themselves on foreign affairs, especially in countries like Africa and post the news that they find.

“For every negative article you post, post three positive ones,” she said. “People assume that all the things happening in Africa are terrible [and] they get exhausted because we all get exhausted by sadness.”

Lastly, she advised to not get caught up in the pressure to act on a large scale.

“My advice to students on all levels,” Marcus-Sells said, “[is] if you think smaller you might actually have a larger impact.”

Elon University President Leo Lambert expects 2017 to be an exciting year as he plans to step down as president

by Mariah Posey | Feb. 13, 2017

leo_lambert21

Leo Lambert

Since 1999, Elon University has seen enrollment grow from 4,000 to more than 6,700 and full-time faculty more than double under the leadership of President Leo Lambert. But even great success is deserving of great change.

For Elon, that change looks like Leo Lambert.

During his board of trustees meeting Feb. 10, President Lambert announced that he plans to step down from his presidency sometime next year after Elon’s ninth president has been hired.

“I expect 2017 will be an exciting time at Elon,” Lambert said. “We have important goals to pursue and much to accomplish in the months ahead.”

He assures that in recruiting a new president, the continuity of leadership for Elon’s key initiatives will not be lost as his team anticipates what the university’s next strategic plan will look like once created and implemented.

Program assistant for fraternity & sorority life Margie Watkins says the succeeding president will have large shoes to fill, but is confident that Lambert will make sure the selection is done properly.

“I’m hoping and I’m sure that he will help to guide that selection process so that his vision and the university’s vision will continue in what we already had accomplished,” Watkins said. “And I’m sure he’s looking as well as the selection committee for someone who will broaden the vision and take us further.”

In order to find Elon’s ninth president, a 15-member search committee consisting of eight trustees including one young alumnus/alumna, three faculty members, two students, one staff member and one member of Elon’s senior staff is being formed by Elon’s Board of Trustees. Set to chair the committee is trustee and former board chair Wes Elingburg.

“President Lambert has helped create an optimistic and collegial culture that promotes continual progress and innovation,” Elingburg said. “Our goal is to find a leader who is ready to embrace the exhilarating challenge of building an ever-stronger Elon, continuing to expand our university’s influence as a leader in higher education.”

Since the start of Lambert’s presidency Elon has risen to the No. 1 ranked Southern University by U.S. News & World Report, up from its No. 16 spot. He has also been a huge proponent of the university’s campus expansion with more than 100 buildings having been added during his tenure.

But with that expansion has not come a loss of focus. Lambert has remained a dedicated advocate for the highest levels of academic excellence. With a priority to fund increased student financial aid, the university’s endowment has quadrupled to $230 million. The number of endowed scholarships has also more than doubled to a total of 613 since Lambert’s presidency.

Though Lambert has undoubtedly remained busy during his years at Elon, he’s still been able to form important connections with both staff and students alike. Senior Sophia Berlin says that having attended some of his dinners, she recognizes his large impact.

“He’s super personable and I think he’s a great leader for Elon,” Berlin said. “It’ll be a big change … People are very accepted in his presence.”

Once he has officially stepped down, Lambert plans to take a sabbatical year dedicated to writing and afterwards continue serving Elon as president emeritus and professor. From his new role, he will work primarily to back the university’s advancement office and alumni engagement efforts.

“We have created a nationally distinctive university renowned for experiential and engaged learning, with a premium on the quality of human relationships,” Lambert said. “Our success has been a team effort, the result of a committed Board of Trustees, brilliant faculty and staff, loyal alumni and generous and supportive parents — everyone working together with a shared belief that we are building a university that is making a profound impact.”

 

Jump into Spring Convocation, stumble upon Daniel Gilbert’s guide to happiness and success March 30

by Mariah Posey | Feb. 10, 2017

220px-daniel_todd_gilbert1

Daniel Gilbert

Popular TED Talk lecturer and Harvard psychologist, Daniel Gilbert, will be speaking at Elon University’s Spring Convocation at 3:30p.m. March 30 in Alumni Gym. His 2007 book, “Stumbling on Happiness,” was one of New York Times’s Bestsellers for six months and has been translated into more than 30 languages.

“He’s a great example of Elon’s priority on bringing world leaders and scholars to campus giving students, faculty, and staff a chance to interact with people who have challenging and inspiring ideas,” said vice president of university communications Dan Anderson.

He aims to teach people the importance of discovering their own happiness and understanding its effect on business strategy, sales and marketing, and understanding customers. In 2013, Gilbert launched a series of television commercials in partnership with Prudential Financial, a life insurance company, to encourage Americans to save for retirement in preparation for their futures. According to his website, the advertising campaign has been one of the most successful in the history of the financial services industry.

“Gilbert is widely known for his research into having a great quality of life,” Anderson said. “His best seller ‘Stumbling On Happiness’ and three popular TED Talks have popularized his work as a professional psychologist.”

His TED Talks have gained traction of more than 20 million views and his first one is the 15 most popular of all time. Gilbert has also been named one of the world’s 50 most-followed scientists on social media in 2014.

Tickets for Spring Convocation will be available as of March 9. General admission is $13 or free with an Elon ID.

Apocalypse now and again: upcoming Elon symposium to explore apocalyptic belief throughout culture

by Mariah Posey | Feb. 02, 2017
31

Photo by Elon University

Beginning next week Thursday, there’s only one way to miss the apocalypse: class. Otherwise you’re in for three jam-packed days of lively discussion from scholars on the topic of apocalyptic thought and practice.

From February 9 through the 10, Elon University’s Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Society (CSRCS) will be sponsoring a symposium titled “On The Edge of Apocalypse: New Directions in the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion” in the Numen Lumen Multifaith Center on campus.

“Elon is committed to educating the community about the role of religious ideas in society and to advancing research—by both students and faculty—about the role of religion in society,” said CSRCS director and professor of religion studies Brian Pennington. “This symposium is an opportunity for Elon faculty to collaborate with other academics from the U.S. and Canada on a common research project.”

The three-day symposium will feature 11 scholars from all over North America and also provide students with a chance to receive feedback on their individual projects during its poster session.

Pennington defines “Apocalyptic thought” as the idea that refers to the world coming to an end through “violent, cataclysmic causes,” especially in its relation to religion.

“Often this kind of thinking involves God appearing on Earth or sending deputies to crush evil-doers and reward the righteous,” Pennington said.

According to Pennington, one main purpose of the symposium is to demonstrate how various and widespread apocalyptic ideas are.

“Therefore we have scholars who study many religious traditions—from Christianity to Islam to Hinduism—as well as those who study popular culture,” he said. “The topics of papers is incredibly varied: we have scholars speaking about Christian theme park The Holy Land Experience, Hindu fans of Donald Trump, the television show ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,’ and Black Lives Matter.”

Though Pennington acknowledges that some of the presentations and discussions may not appeal to a general audience, he says the keynote address to be given by David Cook of Rice University on February 9 is “definitely something we want Elon students, faculty, and the public to attend.”

For more information on the symposium and schedule, you can visit http://blogs.elon.edu/ontheedge/.