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Growing from a shy teenager into a campus leader



Alison Ragon (right) says Megan Pendleton ’10 (left) has blossomed as a student leader.

Megan Pendleton ’10 vividly remembers making the drive with her parents three years ago up I-95 from her native Baltimore to her new home at Lehigh. The car, she recalls, was jam-packed not only with 18 years worth of the engineering major’s belongings, but with tons of nervous energy too.

“I was s-o-o-o-o nervous and my parents were too,” says Pendleton. “But the nerves in a situation like that are completely understandable, because you’re saying goodbye to your parents—in a way—and they are letting you go, letting you move on to an important next step in your life.”

Having graduated from Roland Park Country School, a small, private all-girls school in Baltimore (her high school graduating class had just 78 students), Pendleton wanted a university that was not too far from home with a strong engineering program. She visited both Lehigh and Lafayette, but chose South Mountain after visiting campus again during Diversity Life Weekend.

“I absolutely fell in love with the place that weekend,” said Pendleton. “It felt like home. After Diversity Life, I really felt like I could see myself here.”

A few months later, Pendleton heard that the Office of the First-Year Experience was looking for student volunteers to help with the next year’s orientation and decided to show up for the group interview.

“I was a very shy, very quiet first-year student, but I went to the group interview and it was a lot of fun,” recalls Pendleton. “Then I went on the individual interviews and finished my first year as an orientation leader.”

“Kind, trustworthy and approachable”

That one step out of her comfort zone made all the difference in the world for Pendleton, who has blossomed from a shy teenager into a campus leader.

“After her first round of orientation (as a sophomore), Megan had grown considerably,” says Allison Ragon, director of Orientation and New Student Programs. “I was very excited when she applied to be an orientation coordinator. I knew I would get to know her better and have a chance to challenge her to grow even more. Over the last two years, her self-confidence and leadership style have grown tremendously. She is kind, trustworthy and approachable and her peers recognize these strengths and tend to flock to her.”

Thanks to her stellar performance as an orientation coordinator (OC) last year, Pendleton was accepted as an orientation coordinator again this year—making her one of only three students to serve twice in the role. As an OC, she has been responsible for working with the other student OCs to recruit, select and train 60 orientation volunteers. In addition, each of the six OCs—the other five this year are Megan Abrams, Michelle Tillotson, Hannah Allen, Robin Camp and Dave Morra—has a separate area of focus. Pendleton’s focus this year is to improve the parent and family orientation.

“I met with Allison during last school year and we looked at the family orientation schedule and figured out what we wanted to add,” said Pendleton. “We ended up adding a financial aid session for parents that was well-attended. We also added a parent kickoff event—where Allison (Ragon) and Lori (Bolden McClaind) spoke to the parents about what their sons or daughters could expect.”

Still, Pendleton thought something was missing.

“My one main goal for this year’s orientation was for parents to leave with some level of comfort,” said Pendleton. “Let’s face it, you’re not going to be completely comfortable dropping your child off. My parents weren’t. But I wanted to come up with something that would enable them to communicate how proud they were of their child and that would leave them more at peace when they left their child behind here.”

Eureka moment

After Ragon took all of her OCs to last year’s National Orientation Directors Association annual conference in Boston, Pendleton had her “eureka” moment. To help ease the nervousness and emotions associated with Move-In Day, she decided to give parents of the Class of 2013 members postcards that they could either fill out and hand to staffers to mail to their sons and daughters, or that they could take home and mail in the first week. Pendleton designed the postcards, which became an enormously popular component of the first-year experience.

“I tried to put myself in my parents’ shoes when I was trying to make this postcard happen,” says Pendleton. “And I think that the parents really liked them. At my orientation session, a bunch of parents filled out numerous ones. They were so appreciative to have the opportunity to express their love of their kids.”

Empowered by her experience of creating programs for the First-Year Experience, Pendleton has become a campus leader. Last semester, she became an active member of Break the Silence, serving as a calm voice on the other end of the phone to callers to Lehigh’s 24-hour hotline and sometimes providing interactive programs to help educate student groups about the importance of bystander intervention. She also belongs to the Black Student Union, Kaleidoscope and Spectrum. And as an environmental engineering major, she plans to use her degree to help bring clean drinking water to poor countries.

“Comparing the person that I am now to the person that I was when I first came here—it’s like looking at two completely different people,” says Pendleton. “Allison Ragon and Lori Bolden have helped me so much during my time here. I work more closely with Allison and she’s been a mentor to me. She has this unique ability of making you believe that you’re on top of the world and can accomplish anything.

“Much of my growth as a person over the past three years,” she adds, “is due to Allison Ragon.”

Ragon insists that she receives much more from her six OCs than she gives.

“These students represent the best Lehigh has to offer,” says Ragon. “They are dedicated and passionate students with amazing intellect. I love my job because I get to work with these talented individuals and challenge them to accomplish more than they thought was possible.”

Story by Bill Doherty

Posted on Tuesday, September 15, 2009

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