Elon University’s Fellows programs offer students looking for more rigorous coursework a path to pursue an added challenge. 

The fellows programs include Honors, Elon College, Business, Communications, teaching and leadership. Each program has different requirements for participants, and some have undergone changes for the 2014-2015 school year.

“I found that a lot of Communications Fellows were not applying for the Lumen Prize,” said Communications Fellows director Naeemah Clark. “A part of that is that we don’t think of ourselves as involved in academic research, so we are encouraging students to see the theoretical component and requiring 15 hours of research per year from each student.”

Although some students think research is an important component of an education, they don’t think it’s the only thing.

“While we aren’t spending hours and hours on research, we are comparatively spending our time involved with hands-on work,” said senior Communications Fellow Brian Mezerski.

Changes in other departments, such as in the Elon College Fellows deal with student engagement

Originally, Elon College Fellows attended events designated for an in-depth review of research focused on one area of study.

“I’m not sure we were engaging students as well as we would have liked to,” said Nancy Harris, associate dean of Elon College. “Most students don’t rapidly want to hone into their discipline, so now we are encouraging an interdisciplinary focus.”

Students in the Elon College Fellows program will be exposed to interdisciplinary approaches at three different events — one of which is open to the public Nov. 11 to discuss the various approaches to understanding disease — to stress the importance of perspective on the understanding of far-reaching issues.

Harris also noticed a change in research — not in the requirements, but in what the students are producing.

“Elon students are better,” Harris said. “Faculty are doing more scholarship across the board, and students are doing deeper work. We aren’t mandating it, but it’s happening because the students we recruit are really good students.”

While students are encouraged to find a mentor and pick a research topic early on, some still feel the pressure.

"Most students don't rapidly want to hone into their discipline, so now we are encouraging an interdisciplinary focus."

Sophomore Honors Fellow Maryclaire Schulz is currently looking for a mentor to help her prepare her proposal for the coming year. With a strong emphasis on preparing research in the Honors Fellows program, Schulz is looking forward to nailing down a thesis and finding a mentor to help her through the lengthy process.

Research is not the only added requirement for Fellows students. Many also hold leadership positions and maintain an active presence on campus in organizations.

“I feel like it’s all about finding your niche on campus,” said senior Communications Fellow Tim Gillman. “Rather than getting involved in twenty different clubs as a member, [Fellows advisors] encourage you to find your passion and then become a leader in a club that lets you act on that passion.”

While the Fellows program does encourage students to find what they love, it also supports them to be well-rounded students.

For example, Teaching Fellows study abroad their second semester sophomore year and complete service.

“We are preparing them to be well-rounded teachers,” said Jeffrey Carpenter, director of Elon’s Teaching Fellows program. “All of our teacher education programs are excellent. Fellows just get more experiences that familiarize them with the trends in education earlier on.”

Faculty members maintain the idea that being in the fellows program does not put any one student above another at Elon.

“I think that, whether you’re a Fellow or a non-Fellow, you have a good experience,” Clark said. “You have access to so much that students at other schools don’t.”

Students agree with faculty that anyone at Elon can take advantage of what the university has to offer.

“Everyone always says that being a Fellow is nothing really special. We come to Elon to come to Elon,” Mezerski said. “Everyone still has equal footing and grounds to be the best individuals. It’s just something that has helped me make my Elon experience even more enjoyable.”

While class sizes, academic requirements and extracurricular expectations may differ, students involved in a Fellows program can agree on one thing: it is a great way to make instant connections at Elon.

“I immediately gained, within the first three days on Elon’s campus, a friend group,” Mezerski said.