Last weekend, members of Lehigh’s student-run clubs and organizations packed their bags and headed out to the Poconos for a weekend retreat that sought to unite campus groups and enable them to brainstorm ways they could improve the Lehigh community.
The Great Pocono Escape, hosted by Lehigh’s Office of Student Leadership Development, aims to bring student clubs together at Camp Canadensis.
An event coordinator, Tiffany Montgomery, ‘17, said the retreat is a three-day experience focused on collaboration to bring people within clubs together. The event encourages students to meet new people on a neutral territory and form unlikely friendships that may not have the chance to form within campus boundaries.
The event hosts a mix of advisers from some of the most prevalent Lehigh clubs and on-campus groups, including Student Senate and Orientation Coordinators. These organizations have the chance to come together at the retreat and create great ideas for the Lehigh community, Montgomery said.
“I think that GPE was a great way for senators to connect in a way they normally wouldn’t,” said Sasha Clark, ’18, a Student Senate sorority representative.
Groups use the retreat to brainstorm potential events that are later brought to life on campus. For example, last year’s Amazing Race on-campus event was one of the ideas that originated from Camp Canadensis.
This year the retreat hosted about 250 participants, making this the biggest retreat yet.
“It was helpful,” said Lillie Zakin, ’18, a Student Senate sorority representative. “It was also freezing. I was apprehensive, but by the time I got back I was happy I went and got to learn much more about the problems on campus and how different groups perceive things differently.”
Throughout the retreat, each club participates in a variety of camp activities including hikes, runs and ice breakers. While there is time for clubs to break off independently and brainstorm opportunities for the semester, people are also encouraged to participate in a range of all-club activities to help foster bonding and new friendships, event coordinator Michaela Sunga, ‘17, said.
“Getting together at the retreat was helpful because we were stuck with only each other, we had minimal cell service so (we) really couldn’t get distracted,” Zakin said. “At one point, all of the groups were singing and dancing to ‘Every Time We Touch,’ and we had already been there for two nights, so were all exhausted and disgusting, but were still able to bond and have a great time.”
Club members enjoy the retreat because they get time to discuss issues the club may be facing. Montgomery said the issues tackled at the retreat vary from year to year. This year, issues covered highlighted the campus climate and how students may be feeling.
The retreat provides the student groups with the opportunities to express their opinions on the campus climate to those in upper-level administrative positions. President John Simon attended the retreat this year to hear the concerns of the student body. He worked with each club to learn of ways he can aid in creating a happier and more inclusive campus environment. Other campus leaders attended the event, including Provost Pat Farrell. This created an environment in which leaders were learning from other leaders.
“My favorite thing we did was our group discussion with President Simon and Provost Farrell about campus climate,” said Sophie Bysiewicz, ’18, an on-campus Student Senate representative. “I liked hearing other students’ perspectives on Lehigh culture. The president and provost were both really respective and interested in what we had to say. We talked a lot about the tension between the South Side and students, and safety issues. We talked about potential solutions and how we can be better neighbors to the local community.”