This year, 15 freshmen are beginning their Elon experience more than 1,000 miles away from campus as participants in the inaugural Gap Semester program.

The program provides an opportunity for education and service in a variety of locations. It begins at the National Outdoor Leadership School in Wyoming and culminates with a six-week stay in Costa Rica.

“(Participants) get to experience what Elon is all about in their very first semester,” said Katie Hight, director of new student programs. “They get leadership, service and study abroad.”

Students earn eight academic credits through the program, and some may be used to fulfill the Global Experience requirement.

When the group returns to campus, they will participate in a brief orientation program, a Winter Term Elon 101 course taught by Hight and an optional convocation ceremony along with spring transfer students, Hight said.

“Since they will have all been traveling as a group, we aren’t really worried about them missing the social aspect of orientation,” Hight said. “But we do want to make sure they know about important campus resources.”

Though the Gap Semester program aims to facilitate a smooth transition to campus life, some freshmen feel their fall orientation experience was highly valuable.

[quote] “Elon students are active and involved and engaged. These are the students also willing to take a risk.” - Meredith Smith, associate director of admissions for campus visits  [/quote]

“Everyone likes to be in the same situation as those around them, especially when they are starting something as new as college,” said freshman Jennifer Taylor. “It’s much easier to reach out to people and get to know them when you know that they are in the same position as you.”

Meredith Smith, associate director of admissions for campus visits and selector of this year’s Gap Semester program participants, agrees applying to the program involves a willingness to stray from the usual freshman path.

“Elon students are active and involved and engaged,” Smith said. “These are the students also willing to take a risk.”

To be accepted to the program, applicants submitted an essay expressing their interest in the program along with their early decision applications, Smith then held phone interviews with eligible candidates, many of whom had previous leadership and service experience.

As this was the first year the program was offered, Smith received a lot of questions about the Gap Semester during interviews, she said.

Applicants for next year’s program will be slightly less hesitant, said Kaitlyn Shultz, associate director of admissions. She will select next year’s Gap Semester class.

“Now that we have 15 students backing it up, and a lot more people know more about the program and its structure, we think we’ll see a lot more curiosity than apprehension,” Shultz said.

Students can access information about the Gap Semester through its website, as well as though Twitter, Facebook and participant blogs. Shultz hopes this year’s class will serve as a resource upon their return.

“Our hope is to utilize these students in the future as link so that if students do have questions, they can talk to someone who has participated in the program,” Shultz said.

Hight said she will encourage the program participants in the Elon 101 course to share their experience with others.

“We will be looking for an opportunity for them to showcase what they have done in a meaningful way with the rest of campus,” Hight said.

[box] Check out more photos on Elon's Flickr page: [/box]