The eyes of Lehigh alumnus Bob Kirchberger ’69 ’93P lit up as he described his fraternity house to a group of young students during the alumni thank you reception hosted by the Association of Student Alumni (ASA). Kirchberger pulled out his phone to show them several grainy black and white photos of the house. The students huddled around it, eagerly soaking up an experience that echoes their own, yet at the same time is so different.
The ASA thank you reception on February 16 celebrated alumni for their continued involvement with Lehigh and the bond between past and present Lehigh students. The reception was held in the Herbert A. Roemmele ’53 Global Commons in Williams Hall, where alumni were especially shown gratitude for participating in the alumni dinner club program.
ASA has facilitated alumni-hosted dinners with students since October 2007. Alumni usually invite from five to 10 students, either for a home-cooked meal or to a restaurant. The conversation is casual and gives alumni and students a chance to get to know each other and share experiences. The fellowship between the alumni and students is bound by not just the experiences that are shared, but by the changes that have occurred over the years.
“A lot of things change, but it’s all still the same,” Kirchberger said. “This is an opportunity to meet current students who have an interest in alumni relations.”
Alumnus Nick Noel ’74 felt the same way and has hosted four dinners with his wife, Karen.
“Students enjoy hearing about the Lehigh that I went to, and we [alumni] enjoy learning about the Lehigh that they’re going to,” said Noel.
Caitlin Saunders, associate director of student philanthropy, noted that showing appreciation to the alumni participants was the main purpose of the event.
“It’s important to say, ‘Thank you.’ We really do value and appreciate the alumni who are willing to participate in this program, because we couldn’t do it without them,” she said, and added, “We want to make sure that it’s going to be successful for years to come.”
Em Okrepkie ’18, a member of ASA and former student spirit chair, also highlighted this point.
“I think dinner clubs are one of the best experiences I’ve had at Lehigh. I hope the hosts know how much we appreciate it,” she said.
Saunders added, “It’s a great opportunity for students to get off campus and learn a little bit about life after Lehigh. And it’s a great networking opportunity. It’s nice for our current students to start getting to know the alumni population and learn about the community that’s out there even after graduation.”
Another goal of the dinner was to attract new hosts for student-alumni dinners.
“Lehigh really puts large emphasis on our great alumni networks, so actually making those connections while we’re still at Lehigh is definitely a main goal,” said Paige Hapeman ’19, ASA alumni engagement chair.
This effort has clearly paid off. Past hosts were enthusiastic about their willingness to continue hosting student dinners and new hosts signed up. Jill Anderson ’91 ’14G has hosted one dinner and is an active volunteer at Lehigh. She emphasized the value of staying connected to the university and the benefit of alumni and students getting to meet.
“I was so thrilled when I was asked to be a host. When Lehigh calls, the answer is always ‘Yes’,” she said, and added, “I got so much more out of it than [the students] did. I got to see them talk about their hopes and dreams and aspirations. It sends the message that we are a family. When you see an alum, whether they graduated 50 years ago or five, you have a shared experience.”
The Association of Student Alumni
The Association of Student Alumni, shortened to “ASA” in an ode to Lehigh University’s founder, is a group of students who organize events which connect students and alumni to each other and to the university.
ASA was founded in 2002 by 11 students with the goal of creating an organization that would promote unity, student participation, and alumni involvement. Since then, it has expanded into three main committees – Alumni Engagement, Campus Outreach, and Student Spirit – that each specialize in certain areas of campus and alumni life.
ASA is involved with numerous events all year. Some of the most popular include the First-Year Student Rally, 5×10 programs to encourage student engagement with the university, and Founder’s Day. ASA is also highly involved with Lehigh-Lafayette Week and is responsible for events like the annual bed races competition and spirit item sales.
“A lot of ASA’s role is with Spirit Week for Lehigh-Lafayette. We’ll sell an item every year which kind of gets the whole Lehigh community involved as opposed to just the university, because a lot of alumni come back for that week,” said Hapeman.
Hapeman emphasized the organization’s efforts to remain in contact with alumni year-round, especially after the more public events of the fall semester are over.
“In the spring, we directly connect with alumni, so they stay in touch with what’s going on around campus. They love hearing about our new traditions and things we still do and things that have changed. They tell us about their time at Lehigh and what they’re doing now,” Hapeman said.
Saunders also highlighted the benefits of providing a platform for students and alumni to meet and to develop a connection to their school. She also acknowledged ASA’s success in unifying the school and added that she would like to see the organization grow.
“ASA is the bridge between current students and alumni. Getting people together to share their experiences and learn from each other helps keep traditions alive, build visions for the future, and deepen bonds to the Lehigh family,” she said.
– Carina Bonasera ’19
Photos by Tulani Bey ’20
If you would like to learn more about becoming an alumni dinner club host in the Lehigh Valley area, please contact the Association of Student Alumni at firstname.lastname@example.org or Caitlin Saunders, associate director of student philanthropy, at email@example.com or 610-758-4564.