Ricardo Hall, Vice President for Student Affairs, addresses Lehigh families in the “Lehigh University Founder's Celebration 2020” kickoff video. Founder’s Week was celebrated virtually this year. (Courtesy of Lehigh University)

Lehigh celebrates Founder’s Week virtually

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Since Asa Packer’s death in 1879, Lehigh has never missed a year of honoring the founder’s legacy. 

The university has celebrated Founder’s Day in a multitude of ways throughout the years, such as the GO Campaign Launch in 2018 and the Brown and White Barbeque on the UC Front Lawn in 2019. This year’s celebration however, took place in the form of a virtual week-long event combined with Family Week due to COVID-19. 

Founder’s Week began on Oct. 2 with kickoff videos highlighting Packer’s legacy, messages from university administrators and student leaders, and a dedication to the over 4,000 people who virtually signed a beam in the new Health, Science and Technology building. 

Leslie Gonnella, associate vice president and chief operating officer for Development and Alumni Relations, knew in-person interactions were going to be limited this year. But she said that wasn’t going to stop her from planning a meaningful week for the Lehigh community.

“We just knew that doing nothing was not an option,” Gonnella said. “We had to figure it out from there. At that point, we just started trying to get creative and come up with how we can create a virtual experience that helps to carry forward Asa’s legacy and gives all of our community an experience that both educates them (and) is also interesting.” 

Danielle Moyer, senior director for University Events, said her team wanted to make sure some of the marquee in-person moments from previous year celebrations were included in the videos, such as the class number unveiling and hearing from university leaders. 

She said expanding Family Weekend into a full week of activities allowed more engagement opportunities between students, parents and faculty, since anyone could attend the webinars. 

“We were really tasked with how do we do something in the world of Zoom, where everybody is in Zoom calls all the time,” Moyer said. “People want to engage with it, and they feel like they get something out of it.”

Throughout the week, students and families had the option of attending 70 programs on the Founder’s Day website

Victoria Aitchison, director of development for the Parent’s Program, hosted an information session for the Parent’s Council on Oct. 8 and said there were about 35 people on the call. 

Aitchison said they had breakout rooms during the session so parents and students could exchange names and talk about their Lehigh experiences. She said they brought on guests from the board of trustees and the Community Service Office.

Aitchison said almost 1,500 people logged on at some point throughout the week, and that she was pleased with the turnout at all the sessions.

“This is not an easy time for Lehigh students and Lehigh families as we navigate a lot of information and new challenges,” Aitchison said. “It gives me a lot of hope that the Lehigh spirit is still strong when I see the amount of families that are still logging in and wanting to learn so much about Lehigh.” 

Austen Johnson, ‘21, attended the family webinar, “Things I Wish I’d Known My First Year,” on Oct. 3 and was one of three panelists. 

The call was an opportunity for orientation leaders to share advice on starting off at Lehigh and how to manage challenges early on. 

Johnson said the call was a great opportunity to give back to first-years and their parents. 

“I know my freshman year, I relied a lot on other people’s guidance and people helping me out a lot,” he said. “So I thought especially for Family Week and Founder’s Weekend, it was a good idea to give back to the freshmen, their families and help everyone out as best as I could.” 

Noah Weaver, ‘23, attended the webinar, “How to Change the World (Whether or Not You Can Travel the World),” through the Office of Creative Inquiry on Oct. 5. 

Weaver said there were about 15 people on the call, and there were mainly faculty members or people that work in the office. There were only a few new students who attended to ask questions. 

He said the session was helpful to students but wishes there was more attendance from new students. 

“It’s hard to motivate people to want to go to a social information sort of event when it’s all online,” Weaver said. “I’m sure everyone with the pandemic is kind of tired of looking at their computers.” 

Moyer said they did the best they could from a marketing perspective and gathering students and families together in a safe environment. But she said the week gave them an opportunity to have a diverse group of sessions so that every person felt that there was something they wanted to hear about. 

Moyer said she thinks more people tuned into sessions focused on academics this past week than when they were in-person in past years. 

Gonnella anticipates that going forward, there will be a mix of a virtual and in-person celebration for Founder’s Day and Family Week. 

“What we were committed to doing was building an event that would appeal to the entire Lehigh community … in a way that would speak to anyone where they are, whether they’re a parent, student or faculty member,” Gonnella said.  

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