Alternative Breaks – Jamaica

Hi everyone! I’m sorry I have not been active on our blog lately. The past couple of months have been full of both personal and professional adventures and it’s about time that I share some of them with you all! Let’s start with Spring Break…

One month ago today, was our group’s first full day in Treasure Beach, Jamaica for Elon Alternative Breaks – it was a challenging, fun, exploratory, and fulfilling experience for all involved.

For over nine years, Elon has partnered with VIJON for a Rural Education and Poverty service trip. Each year looks a little bit different, and this spring we were paired with Sandy Bank Primary School to help teach grades 1 to 6, in a variety of subjects, during one week.

The week that we spent at the school was sandwiched by two opportunities to discover and enjoy Jamaican lifestyle and culture outside of the classroom. Following orientation, we spent our first full day on Treasure Beach and at Frenchman’s Reef. The students had a stressful week of midterms prior to the break, so this provided time for everyone to relax and regroup. Throughout the day we were swimming in the ocean, kayaking, catching up on sleep, getting to know one another, engaging in conversation with the locals, and spending time with our community partners at VIJON.

On our first day at Sandy Bank, we were divided in pairs among the classrooms and, depending on the teacher, were guided to do anything from working with students one-on-one and leading small exercises, to teaching a class. While we had been forewarned to get a good night’s sleep the night before our first day at Sandy Bank, we could not have predicted the amount of energy we would be met with from the children at the school. Between teaching, playing during recess, learning the names of all of the students, and doing our best to understand patois, we were all exhausted at the end of each day. Nonetheless, we made time for reflections, a Jamaican dance class, designing and carving our own calabash bowls, an outdoor movie night, and simply taking everything in.

Learner is one of my top strengths, and I was thriving throughout the trip with learning taking place at every turn. I learned a great deal from my co-advisor and Elon students, our Jamaican friends, the children at Sandy Bank, and also from the way of life. My cell phone was turned off for the entire week and I cherished being able to be present in each moment throughout the trip. I felt more active in conversations, more thoughtful about all of the different experiences, and was not distracted by the little things. One of my favorite memories is learning how to make a Jamaican stew from scratch. There was no computer open with a recipe to follow. Instead, there was a garden with fresh vegetables, flour to make noodles, and many hands to make the meal happen.

With my passion for International Education, I was honored and absolutely thrilled to serve as a co-adviser to such a driven and talented group of Elon students while experiencing, first-hand, the public school system in Jamaica. Our student group was composed of all different majors from psychology and education, to communications and marketing, and they all took on the teaching role with creativity and positive energy – they were great educators.

Our final day in Jamaica was full of beautiful views, delicious food, and outdoor excursions. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…


All in all, I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in this experience and it will stay with me for many years to come.

As we learned to say in Jamaica before leaving for the airport…

One love.

Alternative Break to Eagle Butte, SD

By: Amber McCraw, Career Advising Fellow 

Just a couple weeks ago, Elon students were on Spring Break for a week.  While some students went on vacation, some traveled home for interviews, and others completed a week of service in various domestic and international locations through Elon University’s Alternative Break program.  {You can find more information about the program from Kristen and Danielle’s previous posts, here and here.}  I spent my Spring Break accompanying one of the Alternative Break programs to Eagle Butte, SD.

Just like you – I was thinking…where is Eagle Butte??  Well, it is located in the northern, central part of South Dakota and the closest airport is about 3 hours away – we traveled for approx. 18 hours each way between our flights, layovers, and car rides to reach our destination.  It was certainly an entertaining bonding experience to say the least. So, why did we travel to Eagle Butte, SD?

I spent the week with one other staff member and 12 students volunteering on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation with the Cheyenne River Youth Project (CRYP).  The CRYP is comprised of 4 components: the Main Youth Center, the Family Services Program, the Winyan Toka Win Garden, and the Cokata Wiconi Teen Center.  We focused our time and energy on the Main Youth Center and the Teen Center.  Throughout the week, we helped clean the facilities, fixed meals for the children, planned a jungle themed birthday party, coordinated a bake sale in the community, picked up trash in a public park, entertained the children during play time, interacted with the teens by playing basketball, assisted with a rummage sale, and educated ourselves on the culture of the reservation.

By far, it was one of the most rewarding and enlightening trips I have ever been on and it was an incredible experience to be immersed in a culture that is so different from my own.  Each night our group reflected on our experiences and we had several conversations about values, power, privilege, access to resources, and many other topics.  For example, people on the reservation highly value family and culture, but they don’t have access to things such as recycling – which I take for granted.

Our group picked up trash in a public park for over an hour, collecting 50 bags.

Our group picked up trash in a public park for over an hour, collecting 50 bags.

Outside of volunteering, we also visited Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse – both of which are memorials, but the experiences are starkly different.  I would highly recommend a visit to both to gain a better understanding.

Crazy Horse Monument in progress.  It was started in 1948 and is 563 feet high, making it the world's largest mountain sculpture.

Crazy Horse Monument in progress. It was started in 1948 and is 563 feet high, making it the world’s largest mountain sculpture.

As an advisor, it was a great way to build deeper relationships with students and a fantastic learning opportunity.  The students at Elon are incredibly engaged, reflective, insightful, and genuine.  It was a pleasure to advise the trip and watch relationships form among the students and residents of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

We baked cookies & cupcakes and walked around the community to sell the items to raise money for the Cheyenne River Youth Project.

We baked cookies & cupcakes and walked around the community to sell the items to raise money for the Cheyenne River Youth Project.

Professional Peace

By Danielle Golinski, Career Advising Fellow

current state: happy!

In going through my day-to-day duties and the hustle-and-bustle of all that I do, a co-worker of mine asked me what the biggest thing the fellowship has brought me. Woah! I stopped, slowed down, thought, and said with a smile on my face and said “professional peace”. But, Danielle, you ask, what is this professional peace that you speak of? Well, let me tell you!

Professional peace to me, is the feeling that I get inside EVERY SINGLE MORNING (yay!) of excitement, curiosity, thrill and maybe some anxiety thrown in (which, in my opinion, is okay – see my previous piece about how I am currently working through this!). It is the feeling, of readiness to start the day (sometimes with the kind assistance of a cup o’ joe), to accept the challenges and the crazy schedule, and get ready to sit down, get to business, and make an impact. It is the feeling that I can hold onto, when the day may be long or overly stressful. It is the feeling that I know that I am in the profession in which I will pursue for many more years to come. It is a super exciting feeling! I’m thrilled to welcome it, I embrace it!

Career Advising will be a part of my life in some way, shape, or form from this moment forward (how cool is this?!). This fellowship has secured my initial hesitations of answering “where do I fit within this world?” Looking back, I have seen my professional journey just toeing this field, without even realizing it. Starting in high school with the idea of becoming a teacher (I did an internship in an elementary school and realized it was definitely NOT for me), but that I loved the student component and the helping. Then, trying a hand in school counseling (loved the age group, the theory, the one-on-one, and the school environment but I wasn’t a big fan of the discipline. I most enjoyed working with students on their futures). Then, this fellowship. A combo of both teaching, and counseling/advising, with a lot of other things thrown in (all wonderful things may I add). What a package!

My common thread since the very beginning has been the want to help students out with their futures. Today, I am doing just that! I am so fortunate for this fellowship opportunity as it has pointed me in the direction of finding out what this professional peace is like and how it feels.

Are you experiencing a professional peace? Or are you still exploring? I would love to hear what this experience has been like for you.

Dance First, Think Later

By: Amber McCraw, Career Advising Fellow

Today’s post title was inspired by a book titled “Dance First. Think Later: 618 Rules to Live By” by Kathryn and Ross Petras. Unfortunately, I have not yet had a chance to read the book, but it is on my “to do” list.

I really enjoy this mantra and think it is perfectly applicable to the job search.  Currently, I am in the job search since the fellowship ends in May, so this phrase is on my mind personally, but also in my advising appointments with students. In regards to the job search, we need to “Dance first and think later.”

What do I mean by this?

I hear so many students question whether a job will be the right fit for them in terms of qualifications, location, job responsibilities, etc before they even apply for a position. I’ll admit that I am also guilty of this. But, how do you know if a position will be right for you if you don’t apply and interview for it.  If you choose not to apply, then you’ve cut yourself off from the position without giving it a chance.  If you apply and it doesn’t work out, then at least you did everything possible on your end.  The same goes for your qualifications – you may think you are slightly under-qualified for a position, but you never know what mix of skills, characteristics, knowledge, and experience an employer is truly looking for.

That being said, if you absolutely know you don’t want to move to a certain location or you truly don’t have the qualifications for a position, then, remember that your time is valuable, so it should be spent applying to positions that are genuine possibilities.

So, “Dance First. Think Later.”


May I be happy
May I be healthy
May I be peaceful
May I be safe

May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you be peaceful
May you be safe

(Loving-Kindness Meditation)

This fellowship has been more than just a professional opportunity full of growth and learning, it has also been an opportunity for mental and physical growth for myself. I have signed up for my fourth half marathon in April (yay!) and I have begun the rigorous (and fun) training involved. I have found my times outside or on the treadmill challenging and exhausting as I ‘sweat out’ the day’s stress and projects, yet finishing with a clearer mind and a positive attitude. I have found myself no longer needing to run with my iPod as I have become more mindful in listening to my breathing, foot steps, and nature around me. I no longer find myself turning to music as a distraction, rather nature encourages me to move forward. I have found it necessary, for work-life balance, to make time in my calendar for physical exercise and to decompress after a busy work day. More importantly, to step away from a computer or phone screen, and to let my eyes rest from technology.


Yay! That’s me running at my most recent 10k in Raleigh in November. It was a hard race for me, but I continued forward and ran the entire way. My body definitely felt it afterwards :)

I have also found myself practicing meditation. This is new to me and as I am still exploring the meditation practices, I have found it to be internally peaceful and rejuvenating. I have frequented Elon’s 20 Minutes Still once a week which I have thoroughly enjoyed. At yesterday’s session, the instructor said that we were happy to facilitate an upcoming session if we wanted. Hey, why not?! I took a Stressed Out class during my undergraduate and practiced different kinds of meditation, and I am interested in revisiting these sessions. I am all for trying something new. And if I’m feeling super adventurous, I’ll potentially even invite the career services staff.

What have I learned from both of these opportunities? I have learned that it is vital to make time (I wouldn’t even say find time, because there is very little time to find! Making time, takes action!) to focus on mental and physical development. When taking time (even if it is just 20 minutes every day) to spend on this aspect, my whole being is much more satisfied and I perform better at work. I feel happier, healthier and more grounded. What more could I ask for?


Experiment (Part 1)! Presentation Skills

By Career Advising Fellow, Danielle Golinski

After reviewing my mid-year report with my supervisor last month, I made it a priority to work on some skills for the second half of my fellowship. With the first half of the academic year, I’ve become a lot more comfortable with the ins and outs of the fellowship; my confidence has grown and I am ready to consciously challenge myself. Where do I start? My presentation skills, naturally! I’m doing it all of the time in group/classroom settings and also during one-on-one conversations. I’ve already seen myself grow with my presentation abilities since I gave my first presentation to the SPDC last April for a part of the fellowship interviewing process, and since then I’ve given countless other presentations. I love it, but I want to grow. How will this happen? A science-like experiment! I’m going back to my high school days of chemistry where I fell in love with the scientific process and the method. But first, I’m Googling the scientific method (cue refresher course and the scientific jargon for your reading pleasure), and then I’ll be relating this to my presentation goals. I won’t be going too scientifically deep with my experiment, but rather, just a tip of the iceberg. Come with me and learn!

Scientific Method: A way to ask and answer scientific questions by making observations and doing experiments (sounds simple enough!).

Ask a Question: How can I improve my presentation skills to not only grow my confidence but also to involve the students, increase participation, and improve overall presentation engagement?

Do Background Research: (common suggestions, particularly catered on areas of improvement for myself)

  • Stand, rather than sit, and move around a little; be careful not to pace
  • Make eye contact with the audience
  • Talk naturally to the audience
  • Vary tone, pitch, and volume of my voice; slow down!
  • Watch for fillers
  • Be entertaining; have fun!
  • Be understandable: be free of jargon, complexity, and confusion – make the headline “Twitter friendly”
  • Be memorable: “the human mind can only consume anywhere from three to seven points in short term, or ‘working memory’…the magic number – not too many and not too few – seems to be three” ( Incorporate the rule of three into presentations: three parts, three benefits, three action steps.
  • Be emotional: storytelling is the easiest and most effective way to make a presentation remembered. Put this story in the beginning to make a connection with the audience – it can be a story, a question or a shocking statistic.
  • Learn about the human attention span (please forgive my psychology background ‘geeking out’ right about now!):


  1. “Almost everyone listens in the beginning. This is THE moment to make clear that you will present work that the audience cannot afford to miss.
  2. If you want to get your message through, you should state it loud and clear in the beginning, and repeat it at the end.
  3. The best approach, however, is to divide your presentation in several parts, each ended by an intermediate conclusion. People in the audience who got distracted can always easily catch up with  you, particularly if you outline the structure of your talk in the beginning”


Why does an audience get distracted?

  • The structure of the presentation is unclear and hard to follow
  • Speaker is too fast/too slow; monotonous sentences, long, complicated sentences

Construct a Hypothesis (or an educated guess): If I focus my presentation around the number 3, and break up my presentation into smaller chunks and summarize each chunk with a conclusion, work on moving around the room when presenting, and be conscious of my fillers, and volume then the students will be attentive during presentation, ask questions, and show engagement.

Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment: Coming to the blog in Part II. You can certainly guess what the experiment is going to entail – actually doing the above!

Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion: Coming to the blog in Part II

Communicate Your Results: Coming to the blog in Part II

Be on the lookout for my Part II! Starting next week, my presentations start for the spring semester. Hang tight, as I give this experiment a few weeks to work its magic.

Fake Break

By Kristen Aquilino, International Career Fellow

Elon students have been enjoying a quick reprieve between having finished their Winter Term this past Tuesday and prior to beginning the Spring Semester tomorrow. During “Fake Break” some students choose to head home, others are using that time to relax around campus (especially those whose travel was challenged by the weather up north), and we’ve even received word of students who are using this time to … drum roll please… apply to jobs! We’re always happy to get that report :)

Not only is Elon’s Fake Break a good time for students to get some rest and prepare for the next semester, but it is also a great opportunity for faculty and staff to do some of those things we’ve been meaning to accomplish, like clean our desks, finalize syllabi and even attend some trainings and professional development meetings that we would not have time for during the semester. So, amidst the organizing, planning and preparation for the coming semester, Amber, Danielle and I also took part in some awesome learning opportunities.


This past Tuesday, the SPDC team participated in an Ally Training. Matthew Antonio Bosch, the Director of Elon’s Gender and LGBTQIA Center, led the training and educated us about the latest identity terminology and LGBTQIA history, and guided us in discussion about real-life scenarios.  It was an important, interactive and informative training. You can follow the Gender and LGBTQIA Center on Facebook and Twitter to learn more!

WWWLuncheonFollowing up to Tuesday, the three fellows and our colleague Aisha Mitchell drove to the Alamance County Women’s Resource Center where we attended a Working Women’s Wednesday luncheon. Guest speaker, Alexandra Zagbayou, shared about her role as High School Program Director of Student U in Durham. Through sharing her story and describing her work, Alexandra challenged everyone in the room to think critically about our society and what we are doing to build stronger individuals and communities through education.  You can follow Student U on Facebook and Twitter to learn more!

Today is the last day of Fake Break and classes begin tomorrow.  Have a great start to the spring semester and we’ll check in soon!