A group of students participating in the Great Pocono Escape pose for a photo at Camp Canadensis on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. The Great Pocono Escape is a three-day retreat in the Poconos that fosters collaboration between student groups on campus and encourages students to reflect on their college experiences. (Sally Gu/B&W Staff)

The Great Pocono Escape celebrates student leadership


The Great Pocono Escape (GPE), a weekend-long leadership retreat in the Poconos, brought student organizations together to encourage campus involvement and free individuals from their comfort zones.

The retreat was “holistic health” themed to emphasize increased attention to mental health on campus. This year, the discussion topics were loneliness, healthy relationships and mental health. 

The trip, hosted by Camp Canadensis, took place from Sept.13-15.

Ally Machlis, ’20, one of the coordinators for the trip, said the retreat helps students bond with one another and assists campus organizations in forging relationships and planning events. 

“People learn more about the Lehigh community and that they’re not alone in whatever they’re feeling or whatever they’re passionate about,” Machlis said.

Global Union, Camp Hawk, Sophomore Escape and Greek Emerging Leaders were among the organizations that attended this year’s retreat.

In previous years, the theme has been chosen by bLUeprint, a program started to increase student success across campus. Previous themes have included “collaborative connections” and “identity development.”

Abby Bettenhausen, ’20, has attended the Great Pocono Escape three times. This year she attended as a Lehigh After Dark ambassador. She enjoys the trip because it allows her to get away from the pressures of campus life and meet new people. 

“Another reason that made this year’s (Great Pocono Escape) especially great for me was the energy the (Lehigh After Dark) ambassadors brought when we danced, sang, performed and thought about creative new event ideas,” Bettenhausen said.

Particularly, she enjoyed this year’s trip because she met people who shared similar passions as her. She said was able to be vulnerable with them.

“It’s called Great Pocono Escape and I think the word ‘escape’ really fits,” Bettenhausen said. “You don’t have to think about schoolwork, so you might as well just invest and be present.”

Members of organizations participated in activities such as event planning and group bonding, which took place during small group time. On Saturday, groups participated in rotation, and faculty members led discussions about topics in a larger group.

The Great Pocono Escape can also help first-year students transition into their Lehigh experience. First-year students who attend Camp Hawk have the opportunity to interact with new people.  

Like Bettenhausen, Caroline Smith, ’21, has also attended the Great Pocono Escape three times. She attended as a Camp Hawk counselor. this year. She said one of the main goals of Camp Hawk is to facilitate discussions about common problems first-year students may face, such as homesickness.  

“I think it’s important because it’s nice to get off campus, kind of get away from school and your typical friends, get outside, meet new people and do new things,” Smith said. “It’s a great experience.”

Machlis said the overarching goal is for students to bring back ‘action items,’ such as becoming more involved on campus. Students should apply what they learn at the Great Pocono Escape to their clubs and organizations to strengthen the Lehigh community. 


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