Giving Thanks

Considering that I am currently celebrating my last Thanksgiving as a Lehigh student, I thought it would be appropriate to take time to reflect on some of the things I have been most thankful for throughout my Lehigh experience.  The following list is not exhaustive, but trust that it is heartfelt.

1. The ArtsAlive PreLUsion program organized by ArtsLehigh.  Not only did I learn about glass blowing and theatre make-up, but participating in a PreLUsion program gave me a head start on getting comfortable in my residence hall and getting to know other first-year students.  Special shout-outs to Silagh and Susan!

2. The great trifecta: LGBTQIA Services, the Women’s Center, and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.  Through these offices, I have met some of the most amazing individuals, and I’ve learned just as much from being involved in these offices as I have in all of my academic work.  I have attended and presented at national conferences thanks to my involvement in the Women’s Center and the Rainbow Room.  Special thanks to the staff in these three offices and to Break the Silence and Spectrum members for being constant sources of inspiration and encouragement throughout my years here.

3. The English department.  Throughout my undergraduate experience, I always pitied my peers who honestly hated their classes and their professors.  Thankfully, I’ve never had that experience.  Yes, I’ve complained about the amount of reading I had for homework or the number of papers I had to write, but when all is said and done, I’ve always loved it.  The English department is full of amazing faculty and staff who have always been available to help me, from the day I declared my major in Vivien Steele’s office (doesn’t she have the best name?) to the day I presented my senior thesis.  All of my professors have been brilliant and they’ve all challenged me in their own ways, but special thanks to Barry Kroll, Ed Gallagher, and Seth Moglen for constantly pushing me to do my best work and confirming for me that teaching English is a valuable and powerful profession.

4. The opportunity to study abroad.  Even if you don’t think you want to go for a whole semester, go abroad with one of the summer or winter programs.  I chose the Lehigh in Ireland program, which I could talk about for hours.  Living abroad is one of the most amazing experiences, and I am so thankful that I got up the guts to go.  After spending the summer between my junior and senior years in Ireland, I got the travel bug.  I signed up for a Religion Studies course and got to spend spring break my senior year in Israel with my class.

5. The Dean of Students staff.  These people run just about everything that happens on campus that is outside of the classroom and even some of the stuff that is.  With that said, where would I even begin?  They include the staff members of my great trifecta, they include the Ofice of Residence Life, the Community Service Office, Office of the First-Year Experience and Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, Student Activities, Student Conduct, and all the offices that help you excel academically.  They’re a whole bunch of incredible people who want to make my and your Lehigh experiences as awesome as possible.  Special thanks to Dean Allison Gulati for lots of things, but among them, for sending me to LeaderShape, which was another amazing conference experience.

6. Last, but obviously not least, the Office of Residence Life and the Gryphon Society.  When people ask me what I do at Lehigh, I answer, “I’m a Gryphon,” which is normally followed by an explanation of what a Gryphon is (cooler RAs, of course).  A lot of people don’t understand why I would want to spend the entirety of my undergraduate and graduate careers living in a residence hall (shout out to my four years in Dravo and this year in Brodhead!).  After working with the ORL staff, my Gryphon staffs, and residents over the years, I have trouble understanding why anyone wouldn’t.  I’ve made incredible friends and learned so much about myself and others.  I’m a better person, a better leader, and I believe I’ll be a better teacher because of it.  I extend my deepest and sincerest thanks to everyone who has made this experience so wonderful.  I’m sad that it’s all coming to an end for me, but you can be sure I’ll stay in touch.

A happy Thanksgiving to all.
-Gina

Gina Mason, Class of 2012/2013G, is the Head Gryphon in Brodhead and the social media intern for the Office of Residence Life.  After graduating in May, Gina will be moving to Newark to teach English as a member of Teach for America’s 2013 corps.

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How I had tons of fun, found great friends, met professional mentors, and started my career through life at Lehigh.

The Beginning: The first time I met my Gryphon she was walking down the hallway in a towel, having just finished a shower and heading back to her room.  She wasn’t expecting to meet one of her newest residents that day, as first year move-in was scheduled for a few days later.  I was there to participate in a pre-orientation program called Volunteer Experience and had arrived to start a three-day project helping to build a home in nearby Bucks County.  Like any great Gryphon, she excitedly welcomed me to the hall, regardless of the fact she was wearing a towel and had not yet finished with the door decorations and bulletin boards for the floor.

 

Best thing I did at Lehigh #1: Getting involved early, joining clubs, getting rejected from groups, joining different groups, and meeting lots of people all helped me get settled and find my place at Lehigh.

I had so much fun volunteering with other students and meeting people during orientation that I decided to get involved on campus right away.  At the club fair during the first week of school, I signed up to join a bunch of clubs, including a soccer team and an organization for LGBT students and their allies.  I auditioned for an a Capella group (and got rejected), went to speakers on campus, played frisbee outside of Taylor College, and went to BBQs hosted by our Gryphons.  I met so many different people and learned a lot about all that Lehigh had to offer.

 

Best thing I did at Lehigh #2: Finding a close group of friends to share the Lehigh experience with by being involved in campus life gave me a support system and created relationships that have lasted well beyond our time at Lehigh.

My second year at Lehigh, I was selected to be a Gryphon in Richards and helped welcome a new class of first year students.  I wouldn’t have even considered applying to be a Gryphon if I hadn’t gotten to know one of the professional staff members in Residence Life who suggested that I apply.  He encouraged me to get involved and by the middle of my sophomore year, I had responsibilities as a Gryphon, was serving on the executive board of a student organization, was co-directing a student production, and was involved with the Women’s Center, Multicultural Center, and Rainbow Room working to make Lehigh a more open and inclusive community.  The other Gryphons on staff became some of my best friends at Lehigh, friends that I am in touch with to this day.  The other students in the clubs I was part of also became my great friends, friends I have traveled with, lived with, and still turn to for fun and advice.

 

Best thing I did at Lehigh #3: Building relationships with faculty and staff members provided me with the mentorship and network of connections that helped me develop a strong foundation for my career.

By the time I was a senior, I had made connections with students, faculty, and staff from a variety of places across the university.  I completed an honors thesis with a faculty member in my major and learned important skills in research and writing.  I had connected with several staff members in the Residence Life office who had helped me secure a summer internship and provided advice about my future.  They served as mentors to me, and when it was time to think about life after graduation, they helped provide the window into a world that has become my career.

I didn’t know that the field of higher education administration even existed prior to coming to Lehigh.  Through my involvement as a Gryphon, working with student clubs, and on the task forces and committees I was asked to join because of my good relationships with administrators, I started to see that I could turn my passion for having a great college experience into a career.  I decided to use my Presidential Scholar award to spend a fifth year at Lehigh to pursue my master’s degree in educational leadership, which I completed in 2008.  During that time, I started a full-time position working at Lehigh’s Career Services, a job I was offered because of a connection I had made during my undergraduate time with a staff person in that office.  I had turned my newly found interests into the start of a great career.

I did eventually leave Lehigh, but only physically.  Since my time there, I have transitioned into professional roles at two different colleges and made steady progress in a thus-far successful career in higher education administration.  I am involved in local and national organizations that serve my profession and have received recognition for my contributions to the field.  I would not be where I am today if I had not taken advantage of the full offerings of Lehigh both in and outside the classroom, spent time with great friends, and devoted time to get to know faculty and staff beyond what was expected.  I carry with me all of the skills, relationships, and experiences I gained during my time at Lehigh.  It has proved to be an invaluable toolkit for me both personally and professionally, and was ridiculously fun along the way.

 

Chris Diggs works in higher education administration and is currently the Assistant Director for Student Affairs at Baruch College.  She graduated from Lehigh University in 2007 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and religion studies.  She also received a Master of Education degree in educational leadership from Lehigh in 2008.  Chris is a native New Yorker and enjoys taking advantage of all that the city has to offer.

Getting Involved

As a freshman, I was completely overwhelmed with the variety and number of organizations that I could become a part of during my years at Lehigh. I remember writing my name on contact list after contact list during the activities fair on the first day of classes, mostly because I wanted all of the free stuff that clubs and organizations were giving away (shh!). As I started to get emails from these organizations, I began crossing ones off my list as I found out more about their missions, goals and commitments levels. I knew that I wanted to try many new things, but at the same time I didn’t want to overwhelm myself too much by spreading myself too thin. In an effort to not influence you sign up for certain clubs or programs, I am not going to include the names of activities that I was involved with during my Lehigh career, this is, after all, YOUR Lehigh experience to shape!

I applied to a few programs, and after I was accepted to several, and after joining some other activities, I realized that some of these extracurricular activities were just not for me, even ones that I had participated in during my high school years and loved. I told myself that I would not quit something the minute I realized that it was not for me, and one club in particular sticks out in my mind. At the time, I dreaded each meeting time, but by sticking it out, I met one of my best friends and to this day, we still reminisce about the interesting experiences that that group brought to our Lehigh careers.

There were other organizations that I joined, that I enjoyed the minute I walked into the first meeting I attended, and knew from that moment that I wanted to become more involved as I developed as a college student. I will leave you with my top seven tips or thoughts for making the most out of your Lehigh experience.

  1. Sign up for a wide variety of clubs, groups and organizations. Apply or tryout for at least one program or activity. (I found that the application process made me appreciate the value of the organizations that I applied to throughout the course of my time at Lehigh.) Include a mix of things you know you enjoy already and things that you are interested in learning more about. Remember: this is your time to try new things!
  2. Give things a chance before you decide if you like something or not. Everything will be overwhelming in the beginning, so don’t be afraid to ask questions or take a minute to stand back and observe the dynamics of an organization.
  3. Get to know upperclassmen who are leaders, whether their title reflects their leadership, or not. They know the inner workings of their clubs and programs, and were once in your shoes.
  4. Volunteer! Lehigh has so many wonderful volunteer opportunities for students, and by participating in these events you will meet new people, learn about yourself and even about some other things to get involved with at while you’re at Lehigh. Not only will you learn about Lehigh from a different perspective, you will also learn about Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley, where you will call home for four years.
  5. Network. As cliché as this sounds, it is so important to get to know the people that surround you at Lehigh, whether it is fellow undergraduate students, graduate students, coaches, professors, professional staff members, alumni, etc. You never know who might be a great connection for you in the future, and having Lehigh as a common ground is invaluable.
  6. Departments across campus are always bringing famous and interesting speakers and presentations to campus. Make sure to attend a few of these events each semester, and take advantage of these opportunities to expand your knowledge of various topics. Challenge yourself and attend a lecture about a topic you are not very familiar with.
  7. Have fun! When I graduated from Lehigh, my friends and I wished that we had taken even more advantage of the diverse events that take place at Lehigh. You will look back on the times that you took a 10 minute break from studying for 4 o’clock exams more than the 10 hours you spent in the library—don’t get me wrong, studying is extremely important, but remember to balance it out with some fun!

Megan Hanks, Class of 2011, has been keeping busy since graduation with an internship in public relations and plenty of traveling. She recently moved to Philadelphia for a new job and is looking forward to getting more involved with organizations and volunteer opportunities in the city.

 
Want to hear more?  Here’s what our panelists say about getting involved on campus…