As many students eased into the back-to-school mindset in early August, Lehigh Involvement Connection (LINC) sent an email to students announcing a shift in the offices on campus involved in the college student experience.
The LINC email explained the Office of Student Engagement and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs would be merging into one cohesive office, the Office of Student Involvement.
According to Lehigh University Statistics, 93% of undergraduates participate in extracurricular activities. Since a large portion of students are involved on campus through these offices, there is potential for this new office to impact the student experience.
“We are making this purposeful shift in an effort to enhance a diverse, holistic, and meaningful co-curricular experience for all Lehigh students, regardless of their areas of campus involvement,” the email read.
The office now advises clubs, organizations and Greek life, while providing leadership workshops and opportunities for both sectors of students.
Sara Runyon, now the director of Student Involvement, was appointed in late May from associate director of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs. When she found out about the office merger, she saw the opportunity and applied to be director.
“I’m getting to see, as a fraternity and sorority person, a totally different side to student life at Lehigh, which has been really fun and challenging and eye opening in many ways,” Runyon said.
During the 2023 spring semester, Runyon said Chris Mulvihill and Ashley Lemmons, associate deans of students, saw an opportunity for change across student affairs after both the assistant dean and director of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs left Lehigh.
“I think that just presented as an opportunity to think through how are we best supporting students,” Runyon said. “Does this current model, which we’ve been doing for many years at this point, still make the most sense?”
Prior to the merger, Runyon said the Offices of Student Engagement and Fraternity and Sorority Affairs did a lot of parallel work for different populations of Lehigh students.
The idea, Runyon said, was to merge the offices so the new Student Involvement office could create the most opportunities for leadership development and on-campus engagement.
“It all lives in one home with one really sizable staff being able to support all things students want to do on campus, whatever way they want to be engaged,” Runyon said.
The office currently has eight full-time staff members — with two open positions that Runyon said they are hoping to fill soon — and some graduate and undergraduate staff members who are well versed in student engagement areas.
For example, Christy said the office merger could create more opportunities for fraternities and sororities to collaborate with different clubs and organizations on sponsored events, and vice versa.
As a whole, Runyon said this merger is a multiple-year project, but the office’s goal for this year is to continue offering all the same previous student programs and services.
While Runyon used to work in the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, Nick Christy previously worked in the Office of Student Engagement. Now, Christy is the associate director for Student Involvement and Student Center Facilities.
“Because I wasn’t directly involved with fraternity and sorority life, I didn’t know the nitty gritty because I was so into this (student engagement) world,” Christy said. “But being able to experience that and see what that’s all about has been really great for me to understand how that dynamic plays into the work that we have done and will do in the future.”
During this initial team combination, Christy said he is gauging what students are looking for as part of their Lehigh experience, from clubs to Greek life to other organizations.
As for the office’s first-year plan and ideas for the future, Christy said the Office of Student Involvement will work on establishing themselves and evaluate themselves at the end of the year.
“Our vision is to really look at Lehigh’s campus experience and make it the best it possibly can be for students — and an equitable experience for students,” Christy said.
Kate Lyden, ‘24, vice president of leadership for Student Senate, said she became involved with people from the offices during her sophomore year, when she served as Student Senate’s club affairs chair. She said she has since worked closely with the staff members of what is now the Office of Student Involvement.
Lyden said she has seen a lot of overlap between students who are involved in both Greek life and clubs and organizations, so merging the two offices together makes sense.
“The cultures are separated, but the people aren’t separate,” Lyden said. “Because of the passion that students already have, this office will just give them more opportunities and bridge the connections between these two cultures.”