Joseph J. Helble, Lehigh University's 15th president

Joseph J. Helble, Lehigh University's 15th president

Joseph J. Helble ’82 Named Lehigh’s 15th President

Helble, currently provost of Dartmouth College, will assume the presidency on August 16.

Story by

Kelly Hochbein

Photography by

Christa Neu

Videography by

Stephanie Veto

The Lehigh University Board of Trustees announced today the selection of Joseph J. Helble ’82, currently provost of Dartmouth College, as Lehigh’s 15th president. He will assume the presidency on August 16.

Helble, a Lehigh graduate who received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1982, was named president after a comprehensive and global search process that began last fall following the announcement that Lehigh’s current president, John D. Simon ’19P, would be stepping down on June 30. Nathan Urban, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, will serve as interim president until Helble’s arrival.

“I am honored to be taking on this leadership position at a university that has been such an important part of my life,” said Helble. “Lehigh is an outstanding institution, and I’m humbled by the confidence the Board of Trustees has placed in me. I’m inspired by the university’s commitment to excellence in teaching, research and service, and its focus on thoughtful innovation, international engagement and interdisciplinary experiences. I look forward to engaging with faculty, staff and the entire Lehigh community to advance this work and ensure an exceptional Lehigh education for generations to come.”

Exceptional Leadership

Lehigh Board of Trustees Chair Kevin Clayton ’84 ’13P said that Helble’s impressive achievements and leadership at Dartmouth distinguished him among a diverse and talented pool of candidates.

“We are thrilled that Joe Helble, a widely respected leader, accomplished scholar and a 1982 graduate of Lehigh, will be joining us as our 15th president,” said Clayton. “Joe’s passion for excellence, interdisciplinary learning and innovation in higher education make him the perfect choice to lead Lehigh into the future. We are tremendously impressed by the personal and professional qualities that made him so successful at Dartmouth, and are confident those same qualities will make him an outstanding president at Lehigh.”

Helble is the second alumnus in Lehigh history to be appointed president. Henry Sturgis Drinker, Lehigh’s 5th president, graduated from the university in 1871 and served as president from 1905 to 1920.

I see Lehigh as an institution that is perfectly positioned to provide exactly what the country, and, quite honestly, the world needs from higher education... It has all of the foundational elements that we need to produce the educated graduates and the kind of leaders that the country needs.

President-Elect Joseph J. Helble ’82

In his role as provost at Dartmouth, Helble serves as the university’s chief academic and budget officer. He oversees all of Dartmouth’s professional and graduate schools—Geisel School of Medicine, Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, Thayer School of Engineering, and Tuck School of Business—as well as major academic support units and a variety of other offices, academic centers and institutes. He sets the budget for Arts & Sciences and is also responsible for setting the university’s budget priorities and overseeing its annual budget process, developing financial plans, and coordinating support for Dartmouth’s research infrastructure. Helble also serves as a professor of engineering in the Thayer School of Engineering. Over the course of the past year, he has played a critical role in guiding the campus community through the COVID-19 pandemic and providing regular updates about the university’s operations and decisions.

Helble emphasized among Lehigh’s strengths the university’s ability to prepare students to lead in a complex world.

“I see Lehigh as an institution that is perfectly positioned to provide exactly what the country, and, quite honestly, the world needs from higher education,” he said. “Lehigh has all of the essential academic pieces. It has outstanding residential and co-curricular components to support the idea that so much of learning happens outside of the classroom. It has a faculty and staff who are deeply committed to the individual student experience. It has all of the foundational elements that we need to produce the educated graduates and the kind of leaders that the country needs.”

Joseph J. Helble, Lehigh University's 15th president

An Accomplished Alumnus

Prior to becoming Dartmouth’s provost in 2018, Helble served for 13 years as dean of the Thayer School of Engineering. As dean, he oversaw a record increase in the school’s research funding, a near doubling of enrollment, an increase in its number of tenure-track faculty and the introduction of new majors and programs. The school also experienced during Helble’s leadership a sharp increase in the percentage of engineering graduates who are women. In 2016, Dartmouth was the first research university in the nation to have more women graduate with a bachelor’s degree in engineering than men. Helble and his colleagues in the Thayer School also created the PhD Innovation Program (PhD-I), the first program in the nation to prepare engineering doctoral candidates for entrepreneurial success.

“Joe is the personification of calm leadership,” said Philip J. Hanlon, president of Dartmouth College. “As provost, he has steadily guided Dartmouth through the unprecedented turbulence of the last year. His data-driven approach and exacting standards, his willingness to listen and learn, produced decisions that were as wise as they were empathetic. Joe is a leader, a scholar, and a teacher who is leaving Dartmouth a better place than when he arrived 16 years ago.”

Joe’s passion for excellence, interdisciplinary learning and innovation in higher education make him the perfect choice to lead Lehigh into the future. We are tremendously impressed by the personal and professional qualities that made him so successful at Dartmouth, and are confident those same qualities will make him an outstanding president at Lehigh.

Lehigh Board of Trustees Chair Kevin L. Clayton ’84 ’13P

After graduating with highest honors from Lehigh in 1982, Helble earned his PhD in chemical engineering, with a minor in Spanish, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1987. From there he worked for several years in the private sector as a research scientist at Physical Sciences, Inc., during which time he also spent several months on leave as a science policy fellow with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Later, as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Revelle Fellow, he spent a year in Washington, D.C., working on environmental and technology policy. Prior to arriving at Dartmouth, Helble served as professor and chair of chemical engineering at the University of Connecticut.

Helble was appointed a Lehigh trustee on July 1, 2020. He recused himself from his trustee position when he became a candidate during the early stage of the search process.

Helble has authored more than 100 publications and holds three U.S. patents. In 2017, he was elected a Fellow of the AAAS. He is a co-recipient of the National Academy of Engineering's 2014 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education for the design and implementation of Dartmouth's Engineering Entrepreneurship Program, which includes the PhD Innovation Program. He received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 1998.

Helble’s wife, Rebecca Dabora, is the chief technology and manufacturing officer at Adagio Therapeutics, a biotechnology firm developing best-in-class monoclonal antibodies that broadly neutralize SARS-CoV-2, SARSCoV and additional pre-emergent coronaviruses. Helble and Dabora will be moving to Bethlehem and residing in the President’s House. They have three grown children. 

The Right Choice

Maria L. Chrin ’87 ’10P, vice-chair, Board of Trustees, and Philip B. Sheibley ’81 ’19P, vice-chair, Board of Trustees, served as co-chairs of the Presidential Search Committee, which included trustees, staff, administrators, faculty, and undergraduate and graduate students. The committee sought feedback from the Lehigh community early in the search process via six virtual town hall sessions. These well-attended sessions provided opportunities for faculty, staff, undergraduate students, graduate students, alumni and parents to share their perspectives. The comprehensive global search that followed attracted a diverse pool of outstanding candidates from which Helble was ultimately selected. 

“We are extremely grateful to everyone who shared their thoughts and insights throughout this extensive search process,” Chrin said. “The input we received was invaluable in assessing the candidates and ultimately selecting Joe. We found in Joe the personal and professional attributes that we know are crucial to Lehigh’s future.”

Added Sheibley: “We were seeking a strong and dynamic leader who could understand the unique qualities of Lehigh and how to work with the Lehigh community to move our university forward during a challenging time for higher education. We are confident that Joe is the right choice. He knows Lehigh, he loves Lehigh, and he believes deeply in what is possible at this university.”  

Helble said he looks forward to meeting with and hearing from the Lehigh community, and, most of all, to just getting started. 

“I plan to spend time walking the campus, walking South Bethlehem, talking to people and, mostly, listening. I think that's one of the best ways to get to know a community better: to understand why everyone who's there is there, to learn what they value most in the community, to just step back and listen and hear their stories. I also look forward to spending time with the alumni to hear their stories and help me understand even better the impact Lehigh has had on so many over many, many years,” he said.

“I can't wait to get started. I have been at Dartmouth for 16 years and never thought I would leave. But to have the opportunity to return, as president, to my alma mater, to the university that changed my view of what's possible in life … I can’t even begin to describe how special this is for me.” 

Story by

Kelly Hochbein

Photography by

Christa Neu

Videography by

Stephanie Veto

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