“Why I Remain Close to Lehigh” is a collection of feature stories about Lehigh University alumni volunteers and their motivation to stay involved with their alma mater. The group of alumni were interviewed by Klaudia Jazwinska ’18 and Carina Bonasera ’19.
From the start of her first year at Lehigh University, Shannon Varcoe ’15 ’16G knew that there was something special about the connection between Lehigh alumni and students. It was a realization that shaped her college experience, and she decided that she would maintain that relationship when she graduated.
Her early ties to alumni started when she was a member of the Association of Student Alumni, which helps students interact with graduates to enhance their Lehigh experience. Hearing alumni stories and seeing how enthusiastic they were to support current students inspired her to do the same.
“I think my connection with Lehigh as a student was so deep because I had that connection with alumni. It’s something that was so influential for me,” said Varcoe, who earned an integrated degree in engineering, arts, and sciences as an undergraduate and a master’s of engineering in technical entrepreneurship from Lehigh.
Wanting to be a part of the supportive Lehigh staff that had been so influential to her while a student, Varcoe now works part-time to help other students reach their goals. As Innovator-in-Residence at the Baker Institute of Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation, she supports the development of unique programs for students around design thinking and is helping to create a mentoring program that she hopes will involve alumni volunteers.
Varcoe said that her experience at Lehigh was crucial in setting her on a path to success. She was very active as a student and participated in the LehighSiliconValley program, LaunchBayC at Mountaintop, Lehigh After Dark, the Dance Marathon, and the Senior Class Gift Committee. Additionally, she was a Quest PreLUsion leader and a member of Alpha Gamma Delta.
During her studies, Varcoe found a level of support and inspiration in her classes that ultimately led her to start her own company. Her product, ZYX Sticks, is a wooden building toy she created while a student in a three-dimensional design course at Lehigh. After a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016, she now sells the toys on her website and is continuing to develop new products to expand the original set.
“If it weren’t for the support at Lehigh from staff, faculty, and alumni, I would not have had the knowledge and confidence to launch this product and be where I am today,” said Varcoe. “Some of my all-time favorite experiences with ZYX Sticks were when alumni played with them at the 150th Reunion. They were climbing on tables to build these amazing structures. It was awesome to see them having so much fun.”
Varcoe is also having fun being a Lehigh alumnus. She attends events with friends such as the First-Year Rally, Founder’s Day, the Lehigh-Lafayette Rivalry game and Reunion. She first attended Reunion during her freshman year when she was a student driver transporting alumni to the Mountaintop campus.
“That’s what really got Reunion on the map for me. It was a lot of fun…it was a no-brainer to come back as an alum,” Varcoe said, and she added that she enjoys Reunion because it allows her to meet new people, especially other alumni, and to reunite with old friends at their alma mater.