Students hiking on mountain near Quito, Ecuador with a view of the city below.

Lehigh Launch offers students a unique first-semester experience. 

Lehigh Launch Program to Offer Unique First-Semester Experience for Incoming First-Year Students

The program provides an immersive, inquiry-based first semester in the American West or Ecuador.

Story by

Kelly Hochbein

Students applying to Lehigh for Fall 2020 will have a unique opportunity: to spend their first semester not on Lehigh’s campus, but instead in the American West or Ecuador. Lehigh Launch, an experiential, integrative learning experience for intellectually curious and independent students, is open to students of any major who wish to develop leadership skills through a challenging, hands-on and somewhat unconventional first semester of college. 

“Lehigh Launch provides a unique opportunity for students to matriculate,” says Cheryl Matherly, vice president and vice provost for international affairs. “The program is designed to introduce students to those experiences that are distinctive to the Lehigh experience, such as interdisciplinary, problem-based learning.” 

The development of the program was, says Jennifer Jensen, deputy provost for academic affairs and professor of political science, “a wonderfully collaborative process” involving faculty, administrators and staff from across campus.

Participating students will gain new perspectives, take on demanding coursework and participate in active fieldwork experiences during an immersive, inquiry-based semester in either Lander, Wyoming and Taos, New Mexico or Quito, Ecuador, the Amazon and the Galapagos Islands. Following their Lehigh Launch semester, participants will arrive on Lehigh’s South Bethlehem campus for the spring semester. 

The Lehigh Launch experience keeps students deeply connected to the Lehigh community, as Lehigh faculty and staff lead both programs. In addition to earning 16 credit hours and fulfilling distribution requirements in natural science, social science and the humanities, as well as the first-year seminar requirement, students will develop leadership and teamwork skills, work collaboratively with peers to tackle complex problems, strengthen communication skills, and learn much about themselves and others. 

“From the first planning meetings for Lehigh Launch, we committed to making sure that the program would be accessible to any student admitted to Lehigh, regardless of financial need,” says Matherly. 

As a result, Lehigh Launch participants pay no more than the cost of an on-campus semester: Lehigh tuition plus room and board. 

“We’ve been able to work with our partner organizations to provide a best-in-class learning experience in wonderful parts of the world, and the semester has the same tuition and room and board costs as a regular semester at Lehigh,” says Jensen. “And students can use their financial aid to pay for the program costs.” 

Outstanding Partnerships

Lehigh has partnered with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), an internationally recognized nonprofit global wilderness school, to create an exciting program in the American West. Students will spend the first month of the semester in Lander, Wyoming, located in the Wind River Range of the Rocky Mountains. There, they will spend three weeks on classroom-based coursework, with excursions to nearby towns and wilderness areas. They will also stay at NOLS’s Wyss Wilderness Medicine Institute for a two-day wilderness first aid course. Next, students will participate in a two-week NOLS-led backpacking expedition in the Wind River Range, followed by an eight-day canoe expedition in Utah before the transition to the second half of the semester in Taos, New Mexico. In Taos, students will experience six weeks of classroom- and field-based learning, housed on Southern Methodist University’s small and scenic Taos campus.

Sunset at the entrance to Wyss Wilderness Medical Campus in Wyoming.

Students will participate in a two-day wilderness first aid course at the Wyss Wilderness Medicine Institute in Wyoming. 

A partnership with respected study abroad organization IESAbroad will allow students in the Ecuador-based program to spend 12 weeks with homestay families in Quito and study at the IESAbroad Academic Center, based at the Universidad de San Francisco de Quito. In addition to tackling challenging coursework and experiencing Ecuadorian culture firsthand, participants will take a four-day expedition to Tiputini Biodiversity Station in the Amazon region and hike in the rainforest there; and embark on a two-day excursion to explore Quito’s closest rainforest, the Maquipucuna Cloud Forest. They will also spend three weeks on the island of San Cristóbal, including four-days island hopping to visit other parts of the Galápagos Islands, one of the most pristine natural laboratories in the world.

“The Semester in Ecuador will appeal to students who are interested in international travel and study, especially in a place as diverse as Quito, the Amazon and the Galapagos,” says Matherly.

Students birdwatching in the Amazon rainforest

Students studying in Ecuador will visit the Amazon region. 

First-semester students who have been admitted to Lehigh as Early Decision I candidates, as well as those applying to Lehigh as Early Decision II and Regular Decision candidates, are eligible to apply. The program, designed for first-semester students, is not open to transfer students. 

“I think the student who asks a lot of questions and wants to know, ‘Why?’—that is the student who would love this program,” says Jensen. “[It’s a good fit for] students who are comfortable taking some risks and being in a new environment. This is a semester for the student who really wants to dive in, who wants to take full advantage of all the unique opportunities that the semester in Ecuador and the Semester in the American West will offer.”

For more information about Lehigh Launch, visit the program website

Committee members for Lehigh Launch include:  

  • Stefanie Burke, Assistant Dean and Director of First-Year Experience

  • Lauren Furrer, Director, Undergraduate Recruitment Marketing, Communications

  • Jennifer Jensen, Deputy Provost for Academic Affairs and Professor of Political Science (committee co-chair)

  • Khurram Hussain, Associate Professor of Religion Studies

  • Barry Kroll, Professor of English

  • Jessecae Marsh, Associate Professor of Psychology and Director, Health, Medicine and Society Program

  • Cheryl Matherly, Vice President and Vice Provost for International Affairs (committee co-chair)

  • Donald Morris, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Director, Environmental Studies Program

  • Stephen Peters, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Group of people canoeing in Utah with view of mountains in the distance.

The semester in the American West includes an eight-day canoe expedition in Utah.

Story by

Kelly Hochbein

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