Provost Rebecca Kohn talks about her first month at Elon, vision for the future

As Rebecca Kohn begins her tenure as Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Elon University, she has set an ambitious schedule to explore the people, places and programs of her new college home. An accomplished scholar and administrator, Kohn joined Elon from Arcadia University in Pennsylvania and now serves as Elon’s Chief Academic Officer and Chief Operations Officer.

Today at Elon caught up with Kohn as she takes on this pivotal role at Elon to learn more about what led her to Elon, what her first month at university was like, and her vision to help students, faculty, and staff succeed in to support the last few years ahead.

You were selected as Elon’s next Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs in the fall, and I’m sure you’ve prepared extensively for this new role. What have you done to prepare to come to Elon?

Even when I applied for the position, there was work I was doing to get to know Elon better. I made sure to read Boldly Elon and it made me feel so good about the university and its values ​​and priorities and it was so useful. I felt like the priorities were so similar to what I had set throughout my career and I was really excited that this job was a possibility. I’m so glad it turned out.

Since I was selected, various units in the university sent informational materials about their units so that I could read background information about them. As part of my first 100 days, I scheduled meetings with a variety of people from across campus. Of course I’ve read various articles to find out what happened at Elon and now speaking to the actual people helps increase my knowledge of what they are doing and I will learn more as I go. It was a continuum – from preparing for the interview, hiring for the job, preparing for the job and now just being immersed here.

I certainly knew that everything that happens at Elon is student centered and it was wonderful to see how true that is. In my position, I will be working extensively with the faculty, staff and administrators who make sure the student experience here at Elon is so good. It’s going so well here already and it’s a privilege to think about what to do next when we have a good system. How do we make it even better? I look forward to exploring this further.

What was it about Elon that made you decide to take on this role, which is so critical to the success of the university?

I certainly knew Elon by reputation. It is an outstanding institution focused on student experience and engaged learning. What I’ve seen here at Elon have been opportunities to build on the things I’ve prioritized throughout my career.

Provost Rebecca Kohn, right, speaks with Elon University executive interns, left to right, Jalen Peoples ’23, Ariana Wilson ’23, JD Grant ’23 and Grace Clift ’23, at a reception January 10 following a presentation by the author Tommy Orange as part of the Elon speaker range.

Early in my academic career as a faculty member, I developed programs to support student success in my research lab. I have received grants for my lab and used the funds to support students who may have been underserved in science and used retention rates as a measure of their success. I expanded this work over time through institution-wide programs supported by grants. In addition, I’ve been thinking about how we can support the success of faculty and staff, and my administrative tasks have allowed me to focus more on these areas. For example, I have contributed to initiatives where we have brought faculty and staff members to conferences related to combating prejudice.

The types of things Elon is doing to support the success of students, faculty and staff really align with what I’ve already been working on and I’ll be able to do that in a new space. The values ​​behind what Elon pursues were something I admired and aspired to and worked towards.

How do you envision your first 100 days at Elon?

This experience is filled with encounters with many people, which is great as they represent all different areas of the university. I was also able to get in touch with some students. The time was filled with discovering the really interesting things people do. They could explain what their office or unit does. I’ve heard various examples of particular initiatives that people are developing that are really creative and innovative and aimed at improving an institution that is already very, very good.

How was the start of your work at Elon during the winter semester, which is a unique time at Elon?

I was glad I came in January because while general activities are happening the campus is a little. Lecturers and students were here for classes in January and I found out about the study abroad programs for the winter semester. I had a chance to eat in the cafeteria and it was full because there were so many students here during the fall semester. It was great to see how lively the campus is, even if it wasn’t quite as busy as it will be after the semester starts.

In your role, you will act as Chief Academic Officer. From an academic perspective, what areas would you like to focus on to support faculty and student success?

The main reason students come here is for their academic experience, but of course there is so much more they are involved in beyond the classroom. I think it will be great to think about where the students’ interest lies in future academic programs, if there are any ideas how we can build on and improve upon existing expertise, or if there are new areas that make sense for us so that we can begin to employ students to have an academic experience that they are hoping for.

Something really important about the academic experience is ensuring that the classroom is accessible and inclusive, and the faculty here at Elon are already working toward that goal, which will continue to enhance our students’ experiences. One of the ways we can see this is from our already high retention rates, and the university is striving to increase these even further.

For the faculty, I want to support the development opportunities they need, be it in terms of their scholarship or pedagogy. We must support the development of our people who are so important in every aspect of the institution.

Briefly describe an experience with one of your professors that left a lasting impression on you.

I was a biochemistry major and I was someone who really wanted to have a full experience when I went to college, so I researched all sorts of things. A humanities and science environment was perfect for me. In addition to majoring in biochemistry, I tried to major in Russian as well. I also played trombone in various musical ensembles, including the marching band, and because I love art classes, I added art classes when I could fit them into my schedule. I wanted to take every opportunity that came my way.

During my sophomore year, I realized that there were so many courses required that I couldn’t get both my biochemistry major and Russian major, but I took enough courses to spend a semester abroad in what was then the Soviet Union. We had a truly wonderful faculty member who ran the program and also worked as a translator outside of academia. She was a role model who gave us an insight into the different careers one can pursue through learning foreign languages.

I ended up not completing my Russian major, but studying abroad made me realize that if I could navigate the Soviet Union, I could do the same thing in other countries. If there were opportunities to go abroad afterwards, I took them.

You are the third consecutive Provost at Elon who has an academic background in biology. Is there anything in this area that you feel prepared you for the role of Provost?

It’s such an interesting question because it’s an uncommon trend and not seen often. Something that has helped me as an admin is that, being a science background, I’ve gotten used to thinking about the big picture, asking questions about it, and then thinking about ways to answer that question or tackle an issue or whatever problem. I’m also very good at working with data, so I can analyze datasets, think about what the meaning is and how that affects these big picture contexts. This scientific background fosters the ability to switch back and forth between asking questions at scale, thinking about ways to answer them, and then using data to inform how you answer the questions.

You’re almost done with your first month at Elon. learned so far?

What I thought about Elon before I came here – what the priorities are and the quality of the education on offer here – has definitely come true. I have also learned from the students, faculty and staff I have already met what a welcoming environment this is. It is truly a privilege to be part of an institution that has strong values, lives them and is genuinely focused on ensuring the student experience is the best it can be.

Favorite place on campus so far?

Haven’t picked a favorite yet, but I’m exploring and enjoying this exploration. I’m looking forward to spring because I’ve heard that campus is even more beautiful in spring. We’ll see if I develop a favorite spot, but for now I’m just enjoying everything.