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My three mentors

One of the coolest things about DVDs is the director’s cut. That’s where the director of a film gets to add back in the scenes he loved that were cut because the studio wanted to hold the movie to 90 minutes or two hours.

Think of this as the director’s cut of my letter that appears in the current issue of the Lehigh Alumni Bulletin. Those of you who read the magazine—and I hope that’s each of you—know that I write a letter each issue that must fit in a limited space. In the current issue of the magazine, my letter focused on the three mentors I had at Lehigh. I was inspired by the article, “The professor who changed my life” that appears in the Spring issue. It’s a collection of stories from our alumni about Lehigh faculty who have made a difference in their lives and, in some cases, set them on the path that they follow today. And as a bonus, we posted many more of the stories on the Web. You’ll find the link to them in this edition of the Lehigh Alumni Connection.

The only problem was that I had so much more to say than I could possibly fit in the magazine’s limited space. So I’m taking this opportunity to share the uncut version with you.

My experience as an undergraduate at Lehigh is similar to that of many alumni. There are certainly several faculty members who made an impression on me: Rich Aronson (Eco 1 and the famous “Scorecard”), Dave Amidon (I consider myself an “Amidonian” in many respects), and Don Davis (the best math professor/distance runner at Lehigh!). These are all brilliant people and fantastic teachers. But the people who had the greatest impact on me at Lehigh, who changed my life, and who to this day I consider my mentors, all come from Lehigh’s talented staff: Bruce Gardiner, Joe Sterrett, and Mark Erickson.

Bruce Gardiner

Bruce currently serves as the director of admissions. He is closing in on his 35th year at Lehigh, and from 1972 to 1989, Bruce was the head swimming coach. It was Bruce (at the time, I called him Coach) Gardiner who introduced me to Lehigh and, quite honestly, he was the reason I chose to attend here. In the years since, he has become like a father to me.

I was a high school swimmer looking for a good school and the moment I met Coach Gardiner, I felt that Lehigh was the right place for me. That Lehigh could be my home. I swam for Bruce for four years, survived a difficult family situation largely due to his support, was his assistant in my fifth year at Lehigh. Then I had the extreme good fortune (being in the right place at the right time) to take over from Bruce as swimming coach … a job I held for 12 incredible years.

I learned so much from Bruce, but I will sum it up as follows: He taught me to trust my gut and use my instincts, to never burn bridges, and he showed me how to be more than “just a coach” to the student-athletes in the program.

Joe Sterrett

Joe is well known by nearly every alumnus. He is currently the director of athletics at Lehigh, but our history goes back over 20 years. In my senior year in high school, when Joe was working in admissions, he was the one I interviewed with during my visit to campus. A little more than five years later, the same guy offered me my first job!

In the spring of 1989, Joe became the athletic director and later that same summer, I received a phone call that would forever change the course of my life: Joe asked me take over for Bruce as the swimming coach. During the 12 years I worked in that capacity, I learned a ton from Joe. He taught me how to lead, how to manage, how to create a vision and get others to follow—together—toward a common goal, and how to succeed. He took a chance on a young, inexperienced coach, and instilled the confidence in me to get the job done. In my opinion, Joe runs the best department at Lehigh and is the best athletic director in the country. Lehigh is lucky to have him, and I am fortunate to have worked for him.

Mark Erickson

Mark, who is now the vice president for administrative and government affairs at Lehigh, was the one who stopped by my office on a hot summer day in July 2001 and asked the following question: “Would you ever consider applying for the position of alumni director?”

I dismissed the notion at first, then gave it some serious thought, and created my first-ever resume (at the age of 35). Two months later, after four rounds of interviews, more than 50 “interrogators,” and a major presentation and paper, I was hired in the position and have been in this role ever since. It’s amazing to think that a simple question from a friend to a friend changed the path of my life.

But it was during my undergraduate days that I first met Mark, when he served as the dean of students. In my sophomore year, I was a Gryphon in M&M and was having some hard times on the home front. One night, after practice and after dinner, probably around 8 p.m., there was a knock on my residence hall door. It was “Dean Erickson.” He had heard that I was struggling a little and just wanted to check in and see how I was doing.

We ended up talking for more than three hours and we have been close friends ever since. Mark has taught me the importance of balance in life (an art I am still learning), he showed me what kindness is all about, and he taught me about caring for others—a skill I took and applied to my coaching years and one that I maintain today.

A chance meeting with a swim coach, a phone call from an athletic director, and a knock on my door from a vice president … each of these events changed the course of my life. And each involved individuals who helped guide me down the path I have traveled.

I am lucky to have mentors like these three men. I am lucky that I found Lehigh. And I am sure you feel the same.

Have a great summer!

Chris Marshall
Alumni Director

Posted on Thursday, May 27, 2004

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