At the beginning of the fall semester, the countdown began to watch a year’s worth of planning and hard work come into fruition. The excitement was building – looking forward to the crisp morning air, 7:15 am Zumba work-outs, kayaking, late-night bonfires, and star-filled skies. Before the fun could begin, I, along with my fellow Great Pocono Escape coordinators, spent our Thursday night completing cabin and bus assignments, printing out name-tags and going over our script and emergency protocol in the basement of the University Center until we were kicked out by the building supervisors at midnight.
The Great Pocono Escape took place from Friday, September 23, 2016 to Sunday, September 25, 2016 at Camp Canadesis in the Poconos Mountains. The Great Pocono Escape is an annual leadership retreat hosted by the Office of Student Leadership Development spanning over three days and two nights nights that allows a diverse group of organizations and student leaders to collaborate and work together to create a stronger Lehigh community as well as enjoy a weekend away from the fast-paced environment of Lehigh’s campus. Despite the fluctuating numbers throughout the planning process, this year we were pleasantly surprised to have the largest participant turn-out in the seven years since this program has been in place with 250 attendees.
Our overwhelming attendance was made up of eight various groups and organizations namely – Camp Hawk, Global Union, Indian Student Association (ISA), SophoMORE Escape, Student Senate, Orientation Coordinators, Happiness Collective, Residence Hall Association (RHA) as well as their advisors. The majority of the organizations used their time at the retreat to engage in goal setting, take part in team-building activities and also to participate in large group activities and conversations to form collaborative connections and foster dialogue across student groups. President Simon and Provost Farrell were also in attendance at GPE as they partook in fireside chats to have open discussions with students about Lehigh – ranging from issues with the dining hall food and issues of racism present on campus.
This year I got to focus my time solely on making sure the entire weekend ran smoothly. I was able to be more “hands-on” in dealing with every aspect and event on the schedule. Most of the nitty-gritty logistics work was done before the weekend; however, the coordinators were still tasked with ensuring that everything ran smoothly during the retreat itself – from making certain that organizations had supplies in their breakout rooms to making sure participants had marshmallows at the bonfire every night. We led the large group meetings on the stage and going through the schedule, announcements, and reflections throughout the weekend. Most large group meetings started off with a line dance to get everyone excited and warmed up in the cold weather. Tiffany and I, with GPE 2015 under our belts, served as mentors to ensure that both Danielle and Gwladys were learning what do every step of the way, so that they would be prepared to run the show on their own after Tiffany and I graduate this Spring.
This was our first year running the show without the presence of one of our key advisors, Christine Gravelle, the former Assistant Dean and Director of Student Leadership Development and Civic Engagement of Lehigh University. Even though Christine was unable to attend the Great Pocono Escape this past weekend, she played a tremendous role in both planning the retreat from the very beginning as well as guiding the coordinators throughout the process. To show our appreciation for her, we sent our love from Camp Canadensis via a Snapchat video.
“Thank you, Christine. We love GPE. Good luck in Texas!”
While the Great Pocono Escape is over for this year, the planning and anticipation are starting up again to make next year’s GPE even greater. The Office of Student Leadership Development is always looking to expand its reach and impact on campus and increase our participant turn-out. If you or your organization is interested in taking part in the Great Pocono Escape experience, contact Gwladys Boukpessi or Danielle Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. To get a better picture of what exactly GPE is, check out the Office of Student Leadership Development on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr and our website.