Collage of top news stories of 2021

2021: Year in Review

Here’s a look back at the biggest Lehigh stories of the year.

2021 marked a year of new beginnings at Lehigh. The university welcomed a new president, readied for the opening of the innovative Health, Science and Technology building, broke ground on a new College of Business building and announced plans for an institute devoted to social justice. Lehigh also held in-person Commencements for the first time in two years, after the pandemic forced a shift to remote learning. As the year comes to a close, here is a look at the five biggest Lehigh stories of 2021.


1. Lehigh welcomed its 15th president, Joseph J. Helble ’82

Helble Inauguration

Lehigh President Joseph J. Helble '82 walks with University Marshal Linda Lowe-Krentz. Photo: John Kish IV

Joseph J. Helble ’82 was inaugurated as Lehigh’s 15th president in October in a joyous ceremony under the Tamerler Courtyard Tent that opened Founder’s Weekend. Helble outlined “the Lehigh promise” to expand and create interdisciplinary programs, and make key elements of the business, engineering and arts and sciences colleges available to all undergraduates. Helble is only the second alumni to serve as president, and the first in 100 years. Lehigh’s Alumni Bulletin published a profile of Helble in the fall issue and compiled 15 Fun Facts (he runs a six-minute mile) about the university’s 15th president. 

2. Lehigh announced a new institute dedicated to social justice

Charles Marcon

Charles Marcon. Photo: Christa Neu

Noted Lehigh Valley philanthropist Charles Marcon made a $2.5 million gift to establish the Marcon Institute at Lehigh, which will be dedicated to research and study that influences perspectives, practices and policies on social justice. The Marcon Institute’s core activity will be to prepare and deploy undergraduate scholars—to be known as Marcon Fellows—to work alongside community partners to enact change in the arena of social justice and anti-racist issues. Marcon is chief executive officer of Duggan & Marcon, a commercial and industrial finishes contractor.

3. Lehigh illuminated its new Health, Science and Technology building, and broke ground on a new College of Business building.

HST building

The new HST building will open for the Spring 2022 semester. Photo: Christa Neu

“Lehigh” lit up the night in early December when the university’s name, emblazoned atop the new Health, Science and Technology building, was illuminated for the first time. It was a sign of things to come as the university prepares to open its new state-of-the-art collaborative research facility in January 2022. The HST building will serve as the new home for the College of Health and will dramatically increase Lehigh’s capacity for interdisciplinary research. In addition, in March, the College of Business broke ground on a new 74,000-square-foot building that will be catty-corner to the Rauch Business Center and allow for innovative ways of teaching and an expansion of programs. 

4. Lehigh kicked off its yearlong celebration of 50 years of coeducation. 

archive photo of the first classes of undergraduate women at Lehigh

Lehigh welcomes its first class of undergraduate women in Fall 1971.

Lehigh marked 50 years of undergraduate coeducation with Soaring Together, a yearlong celebration of the impact and contributions of Lehigh women—past, present and future. In first-person accounts of their time on campus, five alumnae—each representing a decade of undergraduate women at Lehigh—shared their experiences in a special report online and in the alumni Bulletin. Collectively, their accounts told the story of how women helped to transform Lehigh and have continued to contribute to their communities and society. Though women had been taking classes at Lehigh since 1902 and had been accepted as graduate students since 1918, the first group of female undergraduates, 169 women in all, arrived in Fall 1971.

5. Lehigh celebrated the Classes of 2021 and 2020 by holding in-person Commencement ceremonies for the first time in two years.

2021 Commencement

Lehigh held four in-person Commencement ceremonies for the Classes of 2021 and 2020. Photo: Christa Neu

Lehigh marked its 153rd Commencement weekend in May with in-person ceremonies over three days for the Classes of 2021 and 2020. The Class of 2020 celebration had been held virtually the previous year because of the pandemic. In all, Lehigh hosted more than 3,200 graduates from both classes at four in-person ceremonies. Former NASA astronaut and Lehigh mechanical engineering and mechanics professor Terry Hart ’68 delivered a Commencement address virtually that underscored the value of teamwork—not only in getting people to the moon but in helping organizations to succeed.

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