First Impressions and Lasting Traditions

Almost eight years ago, when I wrote my first “From the President’s Desk” letter, I talked about Lehigh’s tradition of connecting across generations, its ability to foster mentoring relationships between faculty and students, and its success in bridging “theory to practice.” These were among my first impressions of Lehigh. Over the years, these first impressions have become lasting impressions of what makes Lehigh special and why great things are possible here.

There is a continuity of life experiences and excellence at Lehigh that is unrivaled in higher education. Perhaps the strongest tradition at Lehigh is the way we cause students to learn to think critically, to bring their knowledge to bear on open-ended questions, and to work together in diverse teams. Lehigh is known for providing the kind of education that produces leaders who do not shy away from hard problems and thinkers who find change exciting and challenges an adventure. Lehigh graduates are creative and entrepreneurial because of our interdisciplinary programs, our international experiences and the opportunities we provide students to use what they have learned in the classroom as a starting point for further discovery.

The stories alumni have shared with me are perhaps the best measure of the impact of a Lehigh education. I remember an alumnus working in the finance industry telling me that during the hardest parts of the financial crisis, he knew deep in his heart that he could dig down and get the work done. He said that the hard work and rigor of Lehigh left him with an inner confidence that he could work through even the hardest of challenges.

Another alum marveled at the leadership opportunities he was given. Leading University Productions allowed him to learn about choosing, recruiting and booking talented acts that would entertain classmates. The freedom to do that on his own, living with mistakes and celebrating successes, gave him the confidence to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors.

An alumna attributes her success to the many opportunities she was offered to push herself, in academics, sports and international experiences. Her service work in the South Bethlehem community was as important in shaping her as were the rigors of being a Martindale Scholar, and gave her the confidence to excel in challenging positions in far reaches of the world.

The Mountaintop program is Lehigh’s most recent and most exciting step in pushing students to take on leadership roles. I believe that Mountaintop will transcend existing models in higher education by returning higher education to its roots—by focusing not only on the questions, and not only on the answers, but also on the processes that come before and after each: inquiry, exploration, discovery and insight. Mountaintop has the potential to establish Lehigh as the leader in what residential higher education can and should be in this era of ubiquitous information. This summer there will be more than 100 students at Mountaintop participating in the second pilot program. The range of projects demonstrates the diversity of thinking and interests among our students and faculty.

  • “If Walls Could Talk” is a “smart spaces” project that will record the ambient information we give off through our nonverbal behaviors—and then see how an intelligent space might impact individual and collective moods and behaviors.
  • The Shapeshifter is a transportable structure whose physical form shifts with human presence and invites play.
  • A documentary will focus on pulling the past and future together in the story of Wisława Szymborska, the Polish Nobel Prize-winning poet whose life and work was shaped by World War II, the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union.
  • Students will propose and develop new ventilation strategies for the air that people breathe when they must cook indoors over wood or coal fires.
  • Others will find ways to use affordable nanotechnology to remove pathogens from water.

I will visit Mountaintop many times before I leave and will follow its progress over the coming years. I encourage you to do the same and to share your good ideas for inquiry, discovery, creativity and exploration.

It has been my privilege to serve Lehigh and to work with you to further its excellence.  Your support of this great university is evident in Lehigh’s leadership in student experience, academic excellence and global impact. Lehigh has a bright and exciting future.

Thank you for your love of this great university and for your kindness to me during my years of leadership.

Alice P. Gast, President