During his two years as Newman’s director of multicultural engagement and campus life, Joseph Shepard developed a robust framework for diversity, equity and inclusion through Student Life events, partnerships and other community-involved initiatives.
As Shepard transitioned to his new role with Lead for Kansas (LFKS) — a new statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the national Lead for America (LFA) — in May 2021, the idea blossomed for a partnership between Newman and LFKS/LFA.
The goal of LFKS/LFA is to keep young talent in the state of Kansas through its two-year fellowship programs. Newman is always on the hunt for creative ways to enhance student offerings and build upon student engagement. Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Success Christine Schneikart-Luebbe said a partnership with LFKS/LFA was the perfect opportunity to do so.
“LFKS supports Kansas communities in bringing back homegrown young leaders, adding transformative capacity to address their most significant challenges, and building the next generation of civic leadership,” Schneikart-Luebbe said. “Their mission and vision align with Newman’s desire to empower our graduates to transform society.”
Selecting a fellow with Lead for Kansas/ Lead for America
Newman reached out to LFKS/LFA to learn more about the partnership opportunities available. Schniekart-Luebbe was then interviewed to identify the type of employee Newman was looking for. Representatives of LFKS/LFA made suggestions from a pool of vetted candidates who aligned well with the interests and needs of Newman.
“Because Joseph Shepard and I had worked at Newman and specifically in Student Affairs, he knew exactly the skill set I was looking for in a new employee,” Schneikart-Luebbe said.
After interviewing with both Newman University and LFKS/LFA, Chris Mershon was selected as Newman’s first fellow. She started her work as director of student activities in the Division of Student Affairs in August.
In most instances, individuals who apply for a job with LFKS/LFA are placed into positions with prospective organizations. However, in Mershon’s case, she learned about the position at Newman first and the partnership with LFKS/LFA followed.
Through research, implementation and execution, Mershon is tasked with learning how digital broadband can increase campus and community involvement; thus leading to higher retention rates of students. Additionally, she will identify barriers that limit access to the internet for students, particularly for students from rural communities.
“It didn’t take any time for me to recognize Chris was a great fit for Student Affairs and Newman,” Schneikart-Luebbe said. “Her background in event planning and her knowledge of Newman made her a very viable candidate for this program.”
Schneikart-Luebbe added, “LFKS is helping Newman to achieve multiple goals. We are very appreciative of their stewardship and vision.”
Meeting Chris Mershon
Mershon attended high school at Trinity Academy in Wichita and went on to study psychology and classical literature with a minor in intercultural studies at Biola University in California. She also spent a summer abroad at Cambridge University.
Mershon has lived in five different states throughout her life, but shares an early connection to Newman. She performed in different shows in the Jabara Flexible Theatre as a high school student.
“One of my best friends was a graduate assistant at Newman last year,” Mershon explained. “He and I both have very similar mindsets, ideas, drives and passions. So as he was leaving Newman, he thought I would be a good fit for the job.”
Mershon’s first week on the job at Newman involved running the new student orientation alongside Schneikart-Luebbe and Vanessa Rials, the director of multicultural engagement & campus life.
“I felt like I was at orientation, too,” Mershon said with a laugh. “We had a really good time. I got to know some of the freshmen when we were going out to Chicken N Pickle on the party bus, and now those students come over to my office all the time. So it was just really cool.”
Making strides and setting goals
Schneikart-Luebbe said she notices all the work Mershon has already completed since starting her role as director of student activities.
“Chris understands that our strategic plan calls for us to offer a robust student life and she is committed to helping us achieve that goal. She’s already doing wonderful work with the Campus Activities Board and our students. This (fellowship) is a win/win for Newman.”
Building connections with students and helping them progress in their passions and goals is Mershon’s biggest objective, she said.
“I want to provide places for students to feel at home and at rest through these different events that I get to help put on,” she said. “I want them to feel comfortable enough to be active in the life that’s here.”
The Student Affairs office is working to figure out ways to support more student retention — another goal Mershon has her eyes set on, she said.
“I want to help students feel like they are excited to wake up each morning and set foot on this campus, to see their friends walking around,” Mershon said. “I don’t want them to feel the need to put their (earbuds) in when they’re walking to and from class. I want them to enjoy getting stopped for 15 minutes on their way to class because it’s just a really fun environment.”
Opportunity for Newman students
Mershon recommends the fellowship program with LFKS/LFA to any students with a passion for helping others thrive and creating positive change.
“It’s an awesome program right out of college,” she said. “It’s for those who want to go into the workforce, with a community that is there to support them and help them along the way. If any Newman students would like to talk to me more about it or just research it, my door is open.”
Mershon’s office is located in the Student Life Center in Dugan on the Newman campus.