By Sarah Beth Costello

These days, there are few artists and bands that can successfully produce albums of such quality and depth to merit outstanding reviews. Brendan James, an up-and-coming pop artist from Derry, N.H., is an exception. The singer/songwriter, pianist and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate possesses a style and skill that trumps the majority of current top-grossing artists.

James released his self-titled second album on Sept. 7 and despite nominal popularity, he reached No. 1 on the iTunes singer/songwriter chart. James remains in the top-15 albums on iTunes, among popular bands and artists including Justin Bieber, Kings of Leon and Sara Bareilles. James reached No. 92 in the Top 100 on Billboard’s Top 200 Chart and debuted his single, “The Fall,” on Sept. 25 during CBS Saturday’s Second Cup Café.

What separates James from the mass of pop singers and songwriters clamoring for attention in today’s very competitive music industry, is the genuine nature of his songs, his clear and identifiable tenor and the passion evoked in his music. James writes from experiences, life, good and bad times, and is seemingly unafraid of appearing vulnerable before an audience.

James has been described as a contemporary Billy Joel or James Taylor, an artist who appeals to the common individual because his music is so real and attainable. James is successful in digging past the superficial messages of many modern artists, and writing about the complexities of relationships (not sex), love (not lust) and patience (not instant gratification).

The 12 songs on the new album are equally deep. They range from happy and romantic (“Stupid for Your Love”), sad and serious (“Your Beating Heart”) to hopeful and sweet (“Anything for You,” and “The Fall”).

It is rare when an artist can produce a balanced, diverse and unique album, but James’ dedication to the production of his lyrics and music has resulted in a tight package. While most artists are hit with continual demand for new albums, James is more concerned with writing and singing songs that will be remembered beyond the next six months. James worked on his new album for more than a year, and says his manager and label pushed him to write more music before they agreed he was ready to begin recording.

The young pianist has generated a stream of followers through social networking and has gained media attention with each tour. James released his first album, “The Day is Brave,” in 2008 and has exceeded expectations with the release of his second album, which he says is self-titled because it is a reflection of his own life.


By Sarah Costello

College life is busy. After just a few days the chaos will hit you like a semi-truck. With the homework, the projects and the studying, making time for outside activities (and even slowing down for five minutes to eat breakfast) takes some maneuvering. In addition to the stress of normal college life, many students also struggle with another prevalent problem — weight gain.

It seems these days being a freshman is synonymous with the dreaded freshman 15. But don’t let this inaccurate myth put a blight on your first year as a college student. According to, the majority of freshman college students will not gain 15 pounds (so feel free to release collective breaths of anxiety). A recent study conducted by revealed the average college freshman will gain five pounds.

Weight gain may seem inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be. highlights some sure ways to pack on the pounds, including little to no exercise, eating late at night, buying and keeping unhealthy snacks handy and making poor meal choices. A healthy diet and lifestyle is possible, even as a college student. The following six tips are designed to help you stay healthy and prevent the avoidable freshman 15.

1) Don’t skip meals

In college, meals must be adjusted to fit tight schedules. When in class all day, eating breakfast and finding time for lunch is sometimes impossible. Waking up five minutes earlier seems difficult, and grabbing chicken fingers at McEwen for lunch is much easier than packing a sandwich. There’s a reason people naturally eat three meals a day. According to, eating three balanced meals will provide you with energy throughout the day and helps maintain metabolism.

2) Eat a good breakfast

This tip goes hand-in-hand with number one. Eating three meals is important, but your day begins with breakfast, so make it count. According to, skipping breakfast can affect performance in class. When pressed for time, grab a bagel, some granola or even a piece of fruit to ensure your stomach and grade will not suffer from improper nourishment.

3) Substitute good choices for poor ones

Dining hall and cafeteria food is tempting. When you pay for all you can eat, it’s natural to eat all you can. Sometimes turning down savory chicken and golden french fries is difficult, but if possible, try to substitute the empty caloric and greasy foods for healthier options. For instance, Chick-fil-A in Octagon Café offers both fried and grilled chicken sandwiches. You’ll save 130 calories by ordering grilled chicken and get about a serving of vegetables. recommends eating whole grains instead of white rice and bread, and substituting fresh fruit for cookies and ice cream.

4) Drink water

When making better choices, do not forget the power of water. This necessary supplement is often replaced with coffee and sugary sodas, but staying hydrated is imperative to good health. writes that water not only curbs thirst, but also revitalizes skin and organs. Drink often, even when you are not thirsty, to avoid dehydration.

5) Pack a lunch

Packing a lunch will ensure you eat at the appropriate time, and it puts you more in control of what you eat. When running from class to class, it may seem easier to grab a candy bar from the vending machine and eat a real meal later. By packing a lunch, you won’t skip a meal, and you’ll be able to prevent headaches and overeating at a later meal.

6) Embrace variety

From childhood, the food pyramid has been prominent in doctors’ offices and even grade school. Adhering to the pyramid diet can be nearly impossible in college, but it is possible to introduce balance and variety to your palette. Try to eat lean meats (grilled or baked chicken), carbohydrates high in fiber (potatoes and whole grains) and healthy fats found in nuts and oils.

This article was featured on the Elon University news website, E-Net! Click here

By Sarah Beth Costello

The grassy area in front of Mooney doubled as a hospital ward, battleground and

Photo by Sarah Beth Costello

infirmary Tuesday morning as several academically gifted students enrolled in Elon University’s inaugural Formative Learning Experience program – “FLEX” for short – learned about first aid and took turns dramatizing emergency situations.

Meanwhile, a dozen students in an art class gathered outside Alamance to observe the environment and capture the landscape on canvases using impressionist techniques. Inside, students huddled over notebooks, writing plays based on favorite characters to perform in a reader’s theater class.

Fifty academically gifted students were selected to participate in the five-day FLEX Program, a summer learning opportunity that allows students from the third through 11th grades to be challenged, explore areas of interest and make new friends.

“We sent out information to Alamance-Burlington schools telling them about this one week experience for students identified as Academically or Intellectually Gifted (AIG) students,” said Judith Howard, director of the university’s Master’s of Education program.

The majority of children participating in FLEX are enrolled in Alamance-Burlington schools, though the program was not limited to local residents. Supervised by Howard and FLEX director Wendy Staskiewicz, the program provides internships for Elon’s graduate students who must complete an internship before receiving their degree.

“It seemed to fit work better to bring students to campus and allow the graduate students to plan all of this themselves,” said Howard.

The program’s schedule involves team-building exercises, where students participate in activities from designing t-shirts to playing the “knot game” and other team challenges. For two hours each morning, students join one of several educational and creative classes, including reader’s theater, reading discussion, the outdoors, science, digital storytelling and art.

“The learners bring so much to the program,” Staskiewicz said. “One young student was reading The DaVinci Code and talking about complex symbols in the painting during a FLEX art class. This is just one example of the advanced concepts about which students are already knowledgeable. They are coming in with so much. I don’t think schools always tap into that.”

Students in the reading discussion course wanted an opportunity to talk about their favorite books with other students and developed new characters for books such as the Harry Potter series. The outdoors class educates students on environmentally responsible camping and other outdoor activities, from packing a backpack to geocaching.

Students in the science class explore physics, learn about the orbiting space shuttle and chart the fall of a bouncing basketball. Those in the art class experiment with a variety of styles, studying artists from Andy Warhol to Claude Monet.

“We had an interest inventory where we asked students what would make this program interesting,” Staskiewicz said. “The students said it would be boring if they were sitting at a desk all day, completing worksheets and learning things they already knew.”

Gifted students can become bored in the classroom because much of the work is easy for them, Staskiewicz said. Teachers tend to focus more on the academically challenged students, which makes it difficult for gifted students to maintain attention in class when they already know the material.

Staskiewicz said the graduate students do not have “any grand goals for the end,” but rather hope for the children to leave encouraged and eager to continue learning. The students in the reader’s theater class plan to perform an original plays that will be video-taped by another student interested in digital photography. Students will showcase their accomplishments for family members on Friday.

“I like being able to cater to students who are academically talented,” said graduate student Danielle Baker. “Often these students’ needs or wants don’t get much attention in the regular classroom.”

By Sarah Beth Costello

The article was featured on the Elon University Faculty and Staff newsletter Website, @Elon: Click here

In 2006, Cummings High School – located a mere six miles from Elon’s campus – was on the verge of closure, as overall student performance and achievements reached record lows. President Leo M. Lambert felt compelled to act, so he called in Deborah Long, at the time chair of Elon’s Department of Education.

“The president asked me if I’d be interested in being the faculty administrative fellow and assistant to the president,” says Long. “He wanted me to do two things: establish a college access program for Alamance County high school students and work with Cummings High School.

“(The possible closure) was probably one of the best things to happen to Cummings, because it forced people to pay attention. The threat served as the catalyst for the Elon Academy.”

Long directs the Academy, a program for area high-school students who have either no family history of college attendance or come from low-income homes. The program is open to all high-school freshmen in Alamance County who meet admissions criteria and demonstrate academic promise.

Finding education

Long was a natural choice to lead the Elon Academy based on her service to Elon and her leadership of the education department. Before coming to Elon in 1996, Long served as an assistant professor at Lyon College in Batesville, Ark. At Elon, she also was an assistant professor until 2002, when she became education department chair.

Education wasn’t always the field of choice for Long; she studied psychology during her undergraduate years at Colby College in Maine. After graduating, she moved to North Carolina, where she worked as a waitress for one year. While working, she heard about Teachers Corp, a program that provided stipends and tuition reimbursement to individuals with undergraduate liberal arts degrees, encouraging them to become teachers in low-income schools. Long chose to join.

“I didn’t sent out to be a teacher, but I fell in love with education and working with students who faced challenges,” she says. “I became passionate about it.”

Long’s teaching career began in Durham, N.C., where she taught at East End Elementary School. She recalls the atmosphere was challenging, but the work was meaningful, and it prepared her for her future work with Elon Academy.

“Sometimes students aren’t doing well (in school) because they haven’t found something to be passionate about and have lost hope,” she says. “We give them hope and something to strive for – something that’s attainable.”

Shaping students’ futures

Elon Academy students must make a three-year commitment to the program, which offers a variety of academic experiences designed to prepare them for college. Each summer, the students live on Elon’s campus for one month, taking core classes,and  preparing for the SAT and ACT tests as well as college and scholarship applications. During the school year, students and parents meet every Saturday to continue various preparation courses, and students are expected to pursue honors and Advanced Placement courses in their studies whenever possible.

The experience is transformative, Long says, as she shares the story of one student who took an MTV 101 course during the summer session and discovered a passion for film and video editing. He started a club at his school and now wants to major in communications in college. This is a student, Long says, who intended to leave high school and work in construction as a career, and his experience in Elon Academy has completely changed his future goals.

Darris Means ’05, assistant director of Elon Academy, says working with Long has been transformative for him, too.

“Her energy, intelligence and commitment drive me to strive harder in my professional life,” he says. “She’s a team player, and she’s all about collaboration. I feel like her belief in collaboration has led to some remarkable things in Alamance County.”

With Elon Academy set to graduate its first class of students this spring, Long says she hopes to expand the goals of the program, perhaps to include younger students from Alamance County and surrounding areas.

“I love it,” she says of Elon Academy. “I’ve always been drawn to working with under-served students and families. When the opportunity came along to lead the Elon Academy, it felt really right.”

By Sarah Beth Costello

This article was published on the Elon University news Website: E-Net!: Click here

When it comes to science, Terry Tomasek, assistant professor of education,

Photo courtesy of Elon University Relations

believes students need to go beyond the classroom walls to truly experience and understand the subject.

Tomasek supports hands-on learning environments that enrich learning through experiments, observations and fieldwork.

Three years ago, Tomasek and two colleagues from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro launched the summer camp program Slip Slid’n Away (SSA) for high school students interested in herpetology (the study of amphibians and reptiles), ecology (the study of the relationships between different organisms), scientific fieldwork, research and nature.

“When I started teaching, I taught high school,” Tomasek says. “High school has always been a love of mine. [SSA] is a camp that focuses on environmental education, which is also something I love.”

On June 14, SSA welcomed 30 students from North Carolina high schools to the 2009 summer session. The weeklong summer program was held at the Chestnut Ridge Camp and Retreat Center in Efland, N.C. Campers spent five days conducting experiments, observing natural habitats and engaging in fieldwork with scientists, professors and UNCG doctoral students.

“The idea is to get kids to engage in scientific practices,” says Melony Allen, a doctoral student at UNCG who volunteers with SSA.

The SSA program differs from traditional camps in that students are required to attend six follow-up meetings throughout the school year. The camp encourages students to continue the pursuit of science by performing research, presenting information to fellow students and completing projects.

Campers spend mornings at various stations around the camp, attending a different session each day before returning to their favorite on the last day. The stations feature wildlife such as snakes, and box and aquatic turtles. Students collect snakes in the wild, then study them and document observations with the guidance of instructors. Students also hunt box turtles with help from Boykin Spaniels, dogs specially bred for the task. At the vernal pool station, students study temporary pools of water that provide breeding grounds for amphibians and reptiles. In another, experiment students set 10 traps around a lake at the retreat center to determine whether aquatic turtles preferred to eat sardines or chicken.

In the afternoons, campers participate in traditional camp activities, including riding the zip line, swimming in the pool, hiking, canoeing and relaxing.

Photo courtesy of Elon University Relations

Tomasek says the program has received interest from students nationwide, but only North Carolina high school residents are accepted.

“I’ve always been interested [in herpetology],” says Douglas Lawtan, a freshman from Randleman High School in Randolph County. “When I heard about this I was happy. I was pretty ready for it.”

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund provides funding for the program, and students

attend the camp free of charge and are each given stipends of $200 under the stipulation that they will attend the six meetings throughout the year. The fund expires this year, but Tomasek and her colleagues are actively searching for future funding and are hopeful that SSA will return in 2010.

“I look forward [to camp] every year,” Tomasek says. “I think it renews me. It renews my sense of what it means to teach young people.”

Says SSA volunteer and University of North Carolina at Pembroke professor Andy Ash, “It’s a worthwhile thing. I’d be tickled pink to come back.”

By Sarah Beth Costello

This article was featured on the Elon University news Website, E-Net!: Click here

Andi Cochran wanted to spend her final months before college investing in a

Photo courtesy of Elon University Relations

worthwhile project, so when the incoming Elon University freshman used her high school graduation money to buy toys for patients at Duke Children’s Hospital, she knew her actions represented more than a gift – they were a “thank you” to an institution that touched her own life.

“My mom and my grandmother [both battled] cancer and I’ve been blessed with 18 years of health,” says Cochran, a graduate of Croatan High School in Newport, N.C. “I wanted to take what I’d been given and help others.”

Both relatives were treated at Duke Hospital. Though Cochran was only in second grade when doctors diagnosed her mother – also an Elon alum – with breast cancer, to this day she remembers the fear and uncertainty she experienced during a tumultuous time.

“I have a lot of respect for my mom. She’s strong and she’s a fighter,” says Cochran. “[The experience] taught me that when something is given to you in life, you’ve got to take it and do something with it.”

Cochran contacted Duke this spring with an offer to help the hospital. Susan Zeunges, operations coordinator at Duke Children’s Hospital, asked the high school grad to focus on young adults and teenagers because adolescent patients are often overlooked when donors make gifts.

“I think it’s really fantastic,” Zeunges says. “Andi shared with me that she wanted to do something to give back.”

Donations from community members and a contribution from her mother that matched the total amount of graduation money she received allowed Cochran to purchase hundreds of items, including journals, magazines, CDs, Play-Doh, the board games Clue and Sorry, puzzles and Legos.

Cochran planned to deliver the presents in person but was disappointed to discover that Duke Hospital tightened regulations on tours and visits as a precaution against the H1N1 virus, more commonly known as the swine flu. She delivered the toys just days before moving to campus to begin her fall semester studies.

A sacrifice like Cochran’s is huge but is not unheard of, Zeunges says. The hospital has witnessed an increasing interest among young people to take part in service projects and conduct volunteer work at Duke Children’s Hospital.

“I think the North Carolina schools are adding this service project for high school seniors,” says Zeunges. “Over the past six or eight months, I’ve seen an interest in giving and volunteering from high school groups.”

Cochran’s two uncles also attended Elon and, along with her mother, proved to be one of the driving forces behind her decision to apply to the university. She plans to major in business administration.

“Once I came, I fell in love with the atmosphere and the people,” says Cochran, who appreciates the small campus environment as well as the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business.

Growing up in a giving family helped lay the foundation for what Cochran is doing now. Her experience with her mother fostered her compassion and a desire to help others who are suffering.

Says Cochran: “It gives me a good feeling knowing that although these children [at Duke] have had to grow up so fast, it’s really good to know that even a gift I’ve given can make things brighter.”

By Sarah Beth Costello

This article was featured on the Elon University news Website, E-Net!: Click here

The two small holes in her hips and a little pain are the only reminders

Image courtesy of Elon University Relations.

Maura McGrath ’09 has of her recent surgery at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. She says the slight discomfort is a small price to pay for the good she was doing.

After two months of tests and meetings with doctors at the institute, McGrath underwent a two-hour procedure Oct. 1 to extract bone marrow from her hips to help a woman battling aplastic anemia, a rare blood disease.

“It is a little scary to go through a procedure like I did,” she says. “But I thought she could have children, she could be married. Can I really say no because I’m too busy or too scared?”

McGrath donated one liter of bone marrow through the National Marrow Donor Program, an organization that sponsors blood drives to find matches for patients who need transplants. McGrath first heard about the organization five years ago during a blood drive in her hometown of Ipswich, Mass., for a girl with leukemia. McGrath participated and agreed to have her name added to the bone marrow registry. In August, she received a call.

“Initially I was kind of surprised because I had forgotten about it,” she says.

McGrath was told she was a potential match for a woman with aplastic anemia, a condition in which bone marrow does not produce sufficient new blood cells. It can be fatal if left untreated. McGrath agreed to visit Dana-Farber for further testing to determine if she was a perfect match.

“They gave me time to think about it and said they would support me either way,” recalls McGrath. “It was a little nerve-wracking because it was a big deal. But since I’ve known people who battled cancer, I thought anything that could help someone else was worth it.”

Because of privacy laws, McGrath was only told the age and gender of the patient and her condition. McGrath can write a letter to the woman and meet her in the future if the patient agrees. Whether she meets the woman or not, McGrath says it was worth helping someone in need.

“I want to do my part, even though I don’t know this person, because she’s somebody’s family,” she says.

It took about six weeks from the time McGrath learned she was a perfect match to the procedure, in which doctors inserted needles into her hips to extract bone marrow.

“It hurt, but it wasn’t too bad,” McGrath says. “For some people, it’s really painful, but it wasn’t for me.”

McGrath, a communications major, returned to her job as video editor at Mullen Advertising in Boston a few days after the procedure. Her bone marrow will rejuvenate within four to six weeks. For now, she plans to remain on the bone marrow registry and educate others about the importance of bone marrow donations. She plans to encourage schools, businesses and organizations to sponsor blood drives for testing.

“I don’t have the money to donate to causes,” she says. “The only thing I can really do is volunteer and give time instead of money. (Donating marrow) is a huge deal to the recipient and could potentially save her life. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m making a difference, but this is one thing where I know I helped this one person.”