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REACHing Across Campus To Make New Connections

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Lehigh is one of the largest employers in the Lehigh Valley, offering a workplace with a diverse mix of talents, interests, and knowledge.

But the size of our employee community can make creating and sustaining a professional network a challenge. This was confirmed by a 2010 informal survey by the Employee Relations Advisory Committee (ERAC).

Anne Marie Lobley helped lead REACH in its first year.“People were looking for ways to connect,” said ERAC member Anne Marie Lobley recently. “At the same time, they were also seeking opportunities to learn more about facets of the university that they might not encounter in their day-to-day work.”

ERAC broke into subcommittees aimed at addressing the results of the survey. The group examining networking and engagement soon learned that Human Resources was also working on similar issues. They decided to join forces, and together they planted the seed of what would become the REACH program.

Building A Program To Connect And Inform

REACH stands for Resources to Engage, Accomplish, Connect and Help. The program’s designers had some guiding principles when developing the program’s pilot year:
  • REACH had to be accessible to nonexempt and exempt staff as well as faculty.
  • They wanted employees of every stripe, from newbies to long-time veterans, to join the program.
  • They believed it was important that the meetings be informative about a wide range of the university’s operations. 
  • They wanted the content of REACH to be driven by the participants.

Being accessible meant that the program’s time commitment had to be enough to be meaningful, but not so much that it discouraged participation. The team decided hour-long get-togethers once a month was manageable for most people. In addition, employees registering for the program were able to select from options to find the time and day that worked best for them. They were then grouped into “cohorts” based on that availability.

To encourage networking and engagement, Anne Marie said it was critical that each cohort have a hand in creating its own experience. “We want the Lehigh community to feel that this is their program,” Anne Marie said. “We want them to connect to the people and areas that are helpful to them.”

REACH cohort members were asked what they wanted to learn about and how they would spend their time. Members shared their ideas, and the leaders used that information to schedule presenters.

Each month, cohorts met with their leader and a representative of a different area of the university. Sessions included the Provost’s Office, International Affairs, Communications, Facilities, Athletics, and much more.

REACH’s First Year: A View From The Inside

The participants in REACH’s first four cohorts came from across the university, but shared some common goals. “I wanted to get more in-depth, learning more about what Lehigh has to offer,” noted Amanda Fabrizio, Industrial and Systems Engineering. “That way, when I meet with students and alumni, I have more background information to draw on.”

Chad Kusko, ATLSS, participated in one of REACH's first cohorts.Chad Kusko, ATLSS, has been part of the Lehigh family as both a student and a staff member for more than ten years, but believed he had more to learn as well. “Even when we covered areas I was familiar with, it gave me new insights,” he reflected. “For instance, I played baseball as a student, but it was great learning about the business side of athletics from Joe Sterrett.”

Chrissy Moyer decided to join REACH because she loves learning new things about Lehigh.For Chrissy Moyer in Civil and Environmental Engineering, the university’s numerous areas of research and education offer a bounty of opportunities, “I thrive on learning new things and there is so much here,” she said. “You could go through a program like REACH five or six times and still not cover it all.”

Presenters like Yatin Karpe, associate director of the Office of Technology Transfer, viewed the program as a chance to reach a wider internal audience. “We spend a lot of time reaching out to faculty, but the staff doesn’t know us as well. It seemed like a good chance to introduce my office to a different mix of people.”

The REACH participants we spoke with all enjoyed the networking aspect of the program as well. “The goal is networking, but the cohort gets to define what that means,” said Yatin.

“Introducing yourself and then being with the same people repeatedly gave me a chance to really connect with employees from different areas,” Chrissy noted. “With some of our sessions, we did ‘getting-to-know-you’ games and mingled."

Amanda sees professional value in forging ties to colleagues across the university. “Whenever I make a new connection in other offices, I gain a helper in my work. So, if I have an alumnus with a question about admissions for their child, for example, I have someone I can turn to. This makes me better at my job.”

In Chad’s case, he says being proactive about meeting people is a necessity. “You can sometimes feel disengaged up here on Mountaintop Campus, so you have to force yourself to go down the hill and get involved.”

Chrissy also appreciated learning about ways to get more involved with the Lehigh community even after her time in REACH ended. “One session that stood out for me was about International Affairs and Global Citizenship,” she noted. “We visited Coxe Hall and I found out that employees can host international visitors, and there are other ways we can help out.”

The first year of REACH culminated in a luncheon to which all of the cohorts, leaders, and presenters were invited. “That was a great way to wrap up the year,” Chrissy said. “It’s really nice to talk to people when it’s not all work.”

2011-2012 Reach Cohorts With Their Leaders

For Larger Versions of These Photos Plus More From The REACH Luncheon, Visit the Event Photo Gallery

REACHing For The Future

At the close of the first year of REACH, ERAC requested feedback from participants. Anne Marie says most of the responses were positive, but some did suggest there was still room to increase the networking benefits of the program.

“One of the aspects that I liked, and that our participants also liked, was that the presentations were fairly informal and intimate,” Anne Marie said. “But we think there are ways we can tweak the program to increase the ability of cohort members to get to know each other better.”

New REACH groups will be forming in early September. There will be more information about registration available at that time. Anne Marie and Yatin encourage everyone to consider the program.

“This is cross-disciplinary, cross-departmental, cross-classification,” said Yatin.

Anne Marie agreed, “REACH helps Lehigh seem a little bit smaller.”

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