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Warm Welcomes for New Faculty And Staff

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The umbrellas presented to new Lehigh faculty and staff at a recent welcoming reception certainly came in handy as they stepped into the dampness of yet another rainy night. The gifts were just one of the surprises in an evening of hospitality and networking.

Henry Odi, vice provost for academic diversity, greeted guests who included both new and long-time employees with specific instructions. “I want you to connect with two people tonight,” he said, “Then, it’s your responsibility to stay in touch.”

President Alice Gast and Provost Pat Farrell also offered welcoming remarks. Pat encouraged newcomers to feel like they own Lehigh right away. “You have a whole community rooting for your success,” he noted.

President Gast added that getting involved in the myriad of activities on campus was a way to feel more at home and be inspired by Lehigh’s students. “Attend a concert, an art exhibit, a soccer game, a student club event,” she said, “If you do, you’ll be a tremendous optimist for the future of the world.”

Attracting and Retaining A World Class Diverse Staff and Faculty

A frank dialogue about diversity at  last spring’s Town Hall, ignited efforts across campus to improve Lehigh’s sense of community and inclusiveness. One outcome is the new Faculty and Staff of Color Steering Committee, which co-sponsored the welcoming reception.

Leon Washington, dean of admissions and financial aid, is co-chairing the committee with Biological Sciences Professor Jennifer Swann. Leon says they will be very hands-on, “Lehigh has had a Council for Equity and  Community that addresses policy issues, but there was recognition that we needed people on the ground who could take action,” he said. “We reached out, and no one said no, so here we are.”

The idea was first proposed by assistant director of multicultural affairs Courtney Jones, who sought to make the whole university more effective for its students.“That’s who we are all here for,” Courtney said, “If we get out and meet more people and find ways to work together, we’ll be better positioned to serve our students.”

Cross Campus Networking

Melpomene Katakalos (l) and James Peterson (r) chat during the new faculty and staff reception.Faculty and staff swapped business cards and suggested lunch dates. New assistant professor of English Lyndon Dominique has felt warmly welcomed by his department, but the busy start of the semester left little time to mingle on campus. He attended the event to remedy the situation. “It’s important to just get out and meet people,” he said.

Veteran career services professional Ayanna Wilcher agreed with Dominique’s assessment. As she shook hands with dozens of newcomers, she noted, “In the Career Services Office, we’re constantly telling our students to network; we should take our own advice.”

Research scientist Wendy Abrantes was looking to connect personally and professionally with colleagues. “Since I work on the ADVANCE project addressing the need for increased participation by women in the sciences, I thought it would be great to meet new faculty and others who could benefit positively from our grant,” she said.

Tapping Into Shared Strengths

Committee members in attendance were pleased with the event. Jennifer Swann noted, “We accomplished our goal tonight. When these folks walk across campus, and they see someone they met, there will be recognition and an openness to reach out.”

(l to r) Lyndon Dominique, Veronica Hunter, Lydia Benjamin and Floyd Beachum
Swann thinks these connections will bear fruit beyond social support. “We have amazing talents and abilities here, and this new network can foster collaboration. We have strengths in the sciences, in theatre and art, in so many places – but we have to know what our colleagues are doing to take advantage of that.”

Greek life assistant director Veronica Hunter sees the new committee and event as an important step. “When I arrived five years ago, we didn’t have this,” she reflected. “This type of joint effort among faculty, staff, Human Resources, and senior leadership is a great practice. I can’t wait to see what’s in store next.”

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