Few are aware of the extent to which Dr. Gerald H. Elkan has been involved in NC State’s Park Scholarships program, which brings exceptional students to the university and prepares them for a lifetime of giving back to their communities.
During and after Elkan’s distinguished 40-year career as a microbiology professor in NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, he served as a celebrated Park Faculty Scholar for the Classes of 2002, 2006, 2009, and 2011. He established the Gerald H. Elkan Distinguished Lecture on Science and Society to support an annual talk at the university, has volunteered on the Park Enrichment Grant Committee since its inception in 1998, and was even involved in interviewing the Park Scholarships program’s first permanent director.
While Elkan credits his friendship with Art Padilla—his former student and the NC State faculty member responsible for outlining many of the contours of the Park Scholarships program—with initially drawing him to the program, he says “the bright kids” are what keeps him involved to this day.
Park Scholars enroll in all of NC State’s colleges, study a myriad of subjects, and engage in a variety of enriching service activities. Elkan appreciates the interdisciplinary nature of the program, and he taught the Park Scholarships freshman seminar for several of the program’s early years.
“Enrichment comes from seminars and lectures when they are done correctly. It introduces students to things beyond their selected field. Student after student can find their niche through learning beyond the narrow scope of their specific discipline,” Elkan explains. He says that every academic field should be more interdisciplinary and draw together people working across multiple disciplines.
In addition to enrichment programming, Park Scholars have access to Park Enrichment Grants to support personal and professional experiences in the United States and abroad. Since 1998, grants of up to $2,000 have been awarded by a committee composed of Elkan, other NC State faculty members, and a Park Alumni Society representative.
Elkan is a big proponent of students seizing opportunities to study abroad and gain new perspectives. Between his academic research and his simultaneous appointment to the United States Agency for International Development, Elkan traveled to at least three dozen developing countries. He says the experiences provided him a lot of insight, and he encourages students to consider incorporating study abroad into their time as undergraduates.
“Take full advantage of all the possibilities for enrichment and volunteer work,” Elkan advises. He shares a story of how he graduated from high school at 16 and finished his bachelor’s degree by 19, before joining the Army. “I was in a big hurry to get somewhere, but I was washing dishes in the Army when my diploma finally arrived. I thought, ‘Why did I do this?’ My advice is to stop and smell the daisies. Spend a summer studying abroad rather than taking summer classes and expand your understanding.”
Throughout his retirement, Elkan has stayed connected to the Park Scholarships program and his former students. For the last two decades, he has connected with former students each week at Cup-A-Joe on Hillsborough Street—a tradition sustained over Zoom during the pandemic when they were unable to meet in person.
He continues to be inspired by the dedication of Park Scholars and their commitment to making a difference. He mentions 321 Coffee, an inclusive coffee shop and roaster that employs individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as an example of the impact Park Scholars are creating.
After 23 years of serving on the Park Enrichment Grant Committee, Elkan has decided to hang up his hat at the ripe age of 92, although he will continue to serve on the Elkan Lecture Selection Committee and support efforts to fundraise for the Gerald H. Elkan Distinguished Lecture Endowment. The next Gerald H. Elkan Distinguished Lecture on Science and Society will feature noted canopy ecologist and science activist, Nalini Nadkarni, who will speak in Talley Student Union on March 30.
The Park Scholarships program is grateful for Elkan’s decades of exceptional service and continued commitment to supporting the Park Scholars.
The Gerald H. Elkan Distinguished Lectureship Endowment in Park Scholarships brings nationally recognized leaders to NC State for a campus-wide lecture on science and society. Make a gift in honor of Dr. Elkan »