Posted by: rcieri | December 2, 2009

Learning with the Lamberts

Leo and Laurie Lambert to participate in Elon’s South Africa study abroad program

Elon University President Leo Lambert and his wife, Laurie, will accompany a group of students and professors on the South Africa Winter Term study abroad program this January. File photo courtesy of The Pendulum.

By Rachel Cieri

Dec. 2, 2009

This spring, 30 students applied to Elon’s South Africa Winter Term study abroad program expecting the typical experience from years past. But it wasn’t until the class’ pre-trip meeting on Nov. 10 that the students got an unexpected surprise.

“I told them I had a surprise for them,” said English professor and South Africa program leader Prudence Layne. “When they came to class, the students didn’t believe us.”

When Elon University President Leo Lambert and his wife, Laurie, walked in the door, Layne said she asked the students if they knew why the pair was visiting.

“They said ‘Are you coming with us?’ They went crazy,” Layne said.

This Winter Term, the couple will  accompany Layne, human services professor Sandra Reid and the students on the trip.

“I hope there are still students enrolled,” Lambert joked.

Lambert said he and his wife decided to take part in the program after an invitation from Layne.

“I was talking with Professor Layne one day about her course, and she said, ‘Well, you should come,'” he said. “And I thought, ‘Wow, what a great idea.'”

The Lamberts said they hope to enjoy something similar to a student experience, complete with coach class flights and long bus rides.

Though they will not partake in the written class work, they have been reading the same texts assigned to students to prepare for their journey and Lambert will even write a post for the class blog.

“We are on the same flight as the students,” Lambert said. “We’ll be doing all the same things the students are doing, staying in the same hotels, and I think the only thing that will be different is that Laurie and I will be roommates.”

Because of board meetings scheduled later in the month, Lambert will only accompany the program through its first 10 days in Cape Town, South Africa, but Laurie will stay for the full length of the trip.

The South Africa program is a service-oriented experience that allows students to interact with community partners while studying issues the region faces. The students participate in short internships with programs like Adopt-a-Student and The Global Links Library and Literacy Campaign during their visit.

“When the students are doing their internship experiences, (Laurie) is arranging some opportunities for the students to visit hospitals and schools, and she’s really looking forward to that,” Lambert said.

Lambert will be the first Elon president to visit Africa in an official capacity, but he is not the first administrator to participate in a Winter Term study abroad program. Executive Vice President Gerry Francis still maintains relationships with many of the students from the programs in which he participated.

“You have an opportunity to get to know people when you’re eating breakfast, lunch and dinner and sitting on the bus next to them and so forth,” Lambert said. “We are excited to travel. We love being with students and I think it’s going to be a great experience.”
Layne said the students are just as excited as the Lamberts.

“I think it will certainly raise expectations and what’s appropriate (for the trip),” Layne said. “I think they’re all excited to get to know (the Lamberts) on a personal level.”

Lambert said his decision to participate in the program was twofold. First, he wanted to have a student’s experience on a Winter Term study abroad trip, and second, he was interested in visiting Africa for his own personal education.

“One of the most important experiences, not only of my presidency at Elon but of my entire life, is having the opportunity to meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu when he was our Convocation for Honors speaker here several years ago, and I just have always admired the man,” he said. “He was a guest in our home for two days and I came to really respect him. I think the story of South Africa is such an interesting and compelling story of our times, and I’m just anxious to see that first-hand.”

The Elon community should not be concerned about Lambert’s absence, though. He said he is often off campus for extended periods of time and the President’s Office has a long-established system to determine who is in charge.

“Provost (Steven) House is usually the person that backs me up,” Lambert said. “If I’m gone and the provost is gone, I’m designated as the administrator on call. I have an international cell phone and I’m a phone call away.”

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