Updated as of Feb. 21, 2023 at 9:03 a.m. to include additonal information from colleagues, friends of Jay Harper.
Jay Harper first stepped on Elon University's campus as an undergraduate student in 1990. Little did he know, being a Phoenix would become a decades-long endeavor. Harper returned in 2002 and spent more than 20 years working as the university bursar.
Harper is leaving his role of working with tuition, students and parents to head to Duke University Medical Center’s Department of Pediatrics, where he will work in a primarily remote finance position with the Children’s Clinical Research Unit. Harper said while he will be performing similar tasks in his new position, he’s excited to become a piece of an entirely new puzzle.
The Elon alum ’94 said he loves and has been committed to the university, but he wants to pursue something different — as this will only be his third job of his entire career. Ahead of his impending departure, Harper is reflecting on the last three decades at Elon — a time he looks back on proudly.
“It’s one of those things where it’s almost a gut feeling that you’re at the right place and in the right place,” Harper said. “You can’t really put your finger on exactly what it is — it just is.”
Harper felt this way when he was a student too, and his feelings have carried on throughout his career. But now, with his oldest child out of college and youngest in college, Harper said he and his wife feel it is time to spread their own wings.
“I am fearfully excited. I’d lie if I said there was no trepidation or no fear,” Harper said. “Even though I obviously love it here and have made a commitment and loyalty, I just don’t want to look back when I’m 70 and say, ‘Why didn’t you try something different?’”
Elon is recognized nationally for its close professor-student relationships, but these connections stem past the classroom and into university offices too.
Though Harper is starting the next chapter of his professional career, he said the friendships he has made are ones he’ll take with him. Julie White, ERP application developer and trainer, met Harper on her first day of work in June 2003.
“I don’t know Elon without Jay,” White said. “We’re losing someone amazing. I’m very happy for him, but very sad for me and Elon in general.”
In the decades since, this connection has become less of a bond between colleagues and one more like family. Together, Harper and White’s families enjoy game nights.
“I count him as one of my closest friends even outside of work,” White said. “I know that when he leaves Elon, I’m not losing him forever. But he’s my buddy on campus.”
Elon is currently hiring to fill the bursar role and White hopes the candidate is someone who prioritizes students like Harper does.
“He's a great advocate for students and that's not something that's in the job description,” White said. “He goes the extra mile, and I hope we get that in the next person.”
Associate Bursar Alessandra Gabriel was hired by Harper six years ago and she remembers feelings of excitement from just her first phone interview.
Over the years, they’ve developed both a professional and personal connection. Now, Gabriel said she and Harper can finish each other’s sentences.
“It’s been just so nice to have someone that you respect as the boss, but also you can relate to on such a personal level outside of work,” Gabriel said.
Like White, Gabriel hopes the next person to take the role is someone who prioritizes relationships with students and their families.
From weekends to nights and late hours, Gabriel said Harper has been committed to the university.
“He’s always the first one here in the morning and doesn’t want recognition for it, but it’s really because he cares,” Gabriel said. “He’s trying to not only do his job but help these students.”