Executive Young Alumni Council member, Sarah Thomson ’13, graduated from Lehigh with a degree in psychology and is a corporate strategy analyst at Vanguard, where she advises Vanguard senior leadership around some of largest strategic priorities of the company (e.g. market entry, divisional strategy). Sarah lives in Lansdale, PA with her fiancée Michael (getting married 10/14/17), and her hobbies include yoga, hiking, traveling, cooking / baking, and reading. Sarah grew up in Bethlehem and especially loves visiting in the fall and winter when the leaves are changing and the city is decorated for Christmas.
Why did you decide to attend Lehigh? What were your feelings when you received your acceptance?
ST: I’m not sure if I ever consciously made the choice to attend Lehigh (although I remember being very vocal about not ever attending Lafayette). I grew up attending Lehigh football games, Zoellner events, and even Reunion with my parents and grandparents. So to me, Lehigh already felt like home before I even stepped foot on campus officially as a student.
When I got my acceptance letter I was so excited. I remember going to Facebook immediately to join the Lehigh 2013 Facebook group and start meeting people. It was a whirlwind.
Who was your favorite professor at Lehigh?
ST: My favorite professor was actually someone I never took a class with. When I was a senior I was Gryphon-ing in Sayre, and that was also the first year of the Faculty in Residence program. At first, I was a little skeptical about a professor living on campus, but from the moment I met Professor Heather Johnson and her family, I knew it was going to be an amazing year. A special unique experience for everyone involved.
Like I said, I never took a class with Heather, but I learned so much about navigating life from her. She integrated seamlessly into the (bizarre) situation of raising a family among college students, on the Hill no less. She took everything in stride, from loud students returning late at night, to explaining to her kids why they couldn’t play in the halls during “quiet hours,” to remaining a calming presence during a campus evacuation when the power went out on Halloween weekend. She was so genuine in her approach to building relationships with the students that I think after awhile they forgot she was a professor.
What was your favorite course at Lehigh?
ST: My favorite class was Industrial Organizational Psychology. I took the class my senior year after having interned at Vanguard, and it helped me begin to solidify my interest in applying psychology in the business world. A lot of the concepts we talked about such as motivation and work/life balance required self-reflection, so not only did I learn a lot about the academic principles, I also learned a lot about myself that I was able to take with me into the “real world” after graduation.
What organizations or groups were you involved in during your time at Lehigh? How did your involvement impact your Lehigh experience?
ST: I was in Student Senate — public relations chair, and then president my senior year. I think one of the reasons I felt so connected to Lehigh was due in part to being in Student Senate. We met bi-weekly and always had presenters from across campus coming to talk to us about recent events and future projects happening across campus. It was a great way to get plugged into the broader university.
I was also in the Gryphon Society — Gryphon in Dravo, then Head Gryphon in Drinker and Sayre. I loved the community among the Gryphon Society. We spent so much time together it felt like a family on campus. By Gryphon-ing, it also meant that you were constantly meeting new people, whether that was due to your staff changing each year or the residents that you had.
I was also part of Greek Life, serving as vice president of new member education for Zeta Tau Alpha. It was a unique opportunity to be part of the founding of a sorority. There was a lot of unknowns in the beginning, but it was an awesome experience to see something start from scratch and see it grow over time to a fully established house on campus.
Where was your favorite place on campus to study and/or relax?
ST: Linderman library — hands down no questions asked! I love Lucy’s café in the basement, and the stacks in the rotunda were the best place to study. If you needed a break, coffee was easily accessible, and the view of the stain glass was the perfect thing to take your mind off the test you were studying for / the essay you were writing. Plus there’s awesome “hiding spots” when you need to just study in complete silence.
What is your favorite Lehigh memory as a student?
ST: Lehigh beating Duke — it was madness and definitely a highlight of my college experience. I remember driving back to campus from watching the game with our new members and seeing everyone running down from the Hill. It was amazing.
As an alumna, how do you stay involved with Lehigh?
ST: Formally, I have been on the Young Alumni Council (YAC) since graduating. This has been an awesome way to stay connected. We come back to campus three times a year and usually get a sneak peek of what’s coming up for the university, whether that’s a fire-side chat with President Simon or a tour of the Williams Hall renovation before it opened. I also co-lead the Gryphon Society Group Scholarship effort, and recently signed up to help plan the Class of 2013 Reunion.
Informally, I’m constantly on campus for one thing or another. My sister is a senior, so I come back for her swim meets when I can. Sometimes when I’m visiting home, I go over to walk around on the weekend and see what’s going on — there’s never a dull moment on campus.
Whether it is through donating time or money, why do you think it is important for you to stay involved and support Lehigh?
ST: To me, Lehigh is an extension of my family. It goes beyond having grown up across the bridge and having family members as fellow alum.
Lehigh provided me with so many opportunities to stretch myself and grow. Through the activities I was involved with, I found the confidence to take on leadership roles and extra responsibility. I was able to pursue interests like marketing, without having to declare marketing as my major. I developed deep friendships with people I never would have met otherwise and was supported by faculty and staff to step out of my comfort zone.
I want to continue those opportunities for other future Lehigh students. That’s why I donate my time and money. It’s about giving back to Lehigh for what it gave to me, and making sure that others get to have the same amazing opportunities, and then some.
What is your favorite Lehigh memory as an alumna?
ST: I love attending the Rally. It’s a tie between the Rally and Lehigh / Lafayette. At the Rally you have all the freshman so excited to start their Lehigh journey and you have the alumni from the class 50 years ahead of them to welcome them into the family. There’s something special about that moment.
Is there a particular place on campus that you must visit every time you return to campus? Why is that place so important to you?
ST: I have to visit Linderman — I spent so much time in that library, and I love looking at the rotunda. It has a special meaning now since my fiancé and I had our engagement photos taken on campus. Unfortunately, Linderman was closed unexpectedly that day, so we couldn’t go in, but one of my favorite shots from the shoot is outside of Linderman.
Which fan base do you enjoy teasing more: Lafayette fans or Duke fans?
ST: Lafayette — always Lafayette. Duke was an amazing victory, but Lafayette is a rivalry that runs deep. It’s hard to overcome that with anything else.
If you had to pick one Lehigh/Bethlehem “delicacy” to eat for the rest of your life (guilt-free), what would it be?
ST: I could eat a Johnny’s ham, egg, and cheese (“Ham I Am”, if you order on North Side) on an everything bagel everyday, no problem. I had two semesters with a three night class in Maginnes Hall, and during our 15 minute break, I would always run to Johnny’s to grab a pick-me-up to power through the second half of class since I usually never had time to eat dinner beforehand.
What is your favorite Lehigh item that you own?
ST: It’s so hard to choose! Probably the Lehigh flag that I have hanging up at my desk in the office because it’s started so many spontaneous conservations. The most random was with someone who used to work at Bethlehem Steel. When he saw my Lehigh flag we started talking about Bethlehem and Lehigh for easily 30 minutes.