The dreams of becoming a Fulbright Scholar and joining the Peace Corps led junior Mel Hills to search for a way to be civically engaged on Elon University’s campus. That dream is the reason she applied to be a Periclean Scholar.

“Everyone says they want to make a change in the world, and Periclean Scholars has helped me begin that change in a micro way,” Hills said.

Elon’s Periclean Scholars is a branch of Project Pericles, a nonprofit association of more than 30 colleges that promotes civic engagement within higher education. On Elon’s campus, however, the program is uniquely structured. According to Mat Gendle, director of the Periclean Scholars and professor of psychology, Elon’s program is the only one of its kind. 

“It is the only academic program that I am aware of that has a competitive application process, wherein students work in a cohort, along with a faculty mentor in partnership with an organizational partner across three years to design, execute and assess a substantive, equitable and just service project,” Gendle said.

The structure of the program differs from class to class.

"Everyone says they want to make a change in the world, and periclean scholars has helped me begin that change in a micro way."

Mel Hills


“Each class year has a different region of study, and we are basically a group of humanitarians that happen to be college students who focus on an area of study and how to make a sustainable change,” Hills said.

Current cohorts have a wide range of regional focuses, from South Dakota to Sri Lanka. Each cohort has a mission they plan to complete within their region. The regional focus is chosen by the mentor of the group, then the cohort decides what change they want to make within the region.

Periclean in Cuba

Senior Bridget Strysko, a member of the 2020 cohort, said while her time as a Periclean Scholar is coming to an end, her cohort still has a lot of work to do.

The project for the 2020 cohort is a documentary video that she hopes will “capture their spirit and hopefully bridge the cultural and political gaps between Cuba and the United States.” The format of the project is inspired by Humans of New York, a photo project that showcases different people and cultures across the country.

The 2020 cohort will be heading to Cuba during Winter Term 2020, a trip they have been planning since they were assigned this region in their first year. In order to be fully prepared for their trip, the class has planned strategically over the past few years.

International relations between the U.S. and Cuba, however, have complicated the group’s travel plans. Making connections with people and organizations on the island, which is 90 miles south of Florida’s coast, is an important aspect of the cohort’s work that has proved to be difficult.

“We haven’t really made any connections yet,” Strysko said. “Most of them are just from people who had personal connections, such as family or friends.” 

Pericleans in South Dakota

The 2021 cohort’s regional focus is different from other current classes. This cohort is focusing on Oglala Lakota Children’s Justice Center on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  

This is the sole cohort that has a domestic focus and only the second in Elon Periclean history to focus within the U.S.

This has given the cohort the opportunity to visit the reservation more than once — their first time being this past summer. Hills, although she did not attend, said this trip was very beneficial to the planning of the group’s final trip during Winter Term 2021. 

“The members of the cohort who went this summer are the ones who initially made the partnership, and they got to become very close with some of the residents of the reservation,” Hills said. 

Members were able to tour the reservation and get a better sense of the living conditions of those on the land. Hills’ cohort is currently planning another trip for either spring or summer 2020. Being fully immersed in the culture and climate of the reservation is something that Hills said will make deciding the exact focus of their work much easier. 

The cohort hopes that by going on these smaller trips throughout the next year, they will be able to continue developing their project.

The trip to South Dakota has allowed the cohort to build personal relationships within the Native American reservation, such as, with Ariana Bettelyoun, executive director of the Children’s Justice Center, and Larry Swallow, an investigator and case manager. 

Both Bettelyoun and Swallow will be on campus this Wednesday, Nov. 13, for an open forum regarding the center’s work on the reservation. Their visit is being funded through Elon University’s Fund for Excellence in the Arts and Sciences.

The event “Healing the Children at Pine Ridge” will be held at 7 p.m. in Whitley Auditorium and will be free of charge. Following the event, there will be a reception in Steers Pavilion.

Fundraising for Periclean

Fundraising is a pivotal part of the Periclean Scholars program, as raised funds pay for trips and final projects. Each class develops its own way of fundraising.

In October, the 2022 cohort launched its fundraising program — a rideshare, modeled after the recently discontinued Safe Rides program, which provided safe late-night transportation across campus. All proceeds from this rideshare will support the program’s trip to Ghana during Winter Term 2022.

Applications for the Periclean 2023 cohort is on Elon’s Project Pericles website and is open until March 6, 2020. This cohort’s regional focus will be Sri Lanka.