New Gap Semester program combines Elon’s strengths to create new opportunities for students

Next fall when most of the class of 2016 is moving into new dorm rooms, about 15 students will be working on leadership in Wyoming, traveling cross country while stopping for service projects and exploring Costa Rica. Elon University has created a new gap semester program that will start in the fall of 2012 encompassing all of these experiences.

“The gap semester program started because part of the strategic plan is to develop innovative pathways for you to start when you enroll or as you end your time at Elon,” said Brian O’Shea, assistant to the vice president for Student Life and dean of students.

The administration looked at many different existing gap semester programs before deciding to create their own.

“We realized that we had a lot of different ideas that were not being implemented in any current program,” O’Shea said. “I started looking at a potential budget and schedule for the program. This past year, I spent a lot of time developing the program and chairing a search committee for a program coordinator.”

The participating students will not arrive to Elon’s campus for orientation week like the rest of the campus, but will complete most of their orientation in the spring of their senior year of high school, according to Katie Hight, director of new student programs.

“They will all be in the same orientation group in the spring and talk about a lot of the stuff that is discussed during the normal fall orientation,” Hight said. ‘There will also be a brief orientation with staff at the beginning of the gap program.”

The first three weeks of the program will be conducted at the National Outdoor Leadership School during the end of August. During this stage, participants will hike, camp and develop leadership skills.

“The next part of the program is completely run through Elon,” O’Shea said. “The students will spend four weeks of service. They will start in Wyoming and travel cross-country, ending in North Carolina. There will be four service opportunities, each lasting about a week.”

Each week the students will spend time in a different locale involved in a different service project. The participants will also get to visit tourist attractions and learn about the different locations they are in.

The last leg of the trip is spending six weeks at the Elon Centre in Costa Rica.

“They will be doing a lot of the same things that the students who spend a winter term in Costa Rica do,” O’Shea said. “They will have a Spanish class, a cultural class and probably site seeing.”

Currently, any students who are entering Elon as part of a Fellows program cannot participate because the Fellows programs are cohort programs that require attendance in the fall.

“We think this program is something that is very innovative,” O’Shea said. “We think this program will make students more resilient, more resilient than they would have been if they arrived to campus in August. I like to call it the best of Elon, the three things we do best—study abroad, service work and leadership—combined into one.”

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