“They were really tired, really euphoric, but also really excited about all they learned,” Kroll says. “They said to me, ‘We don't even know yet how much we learned, we're still processing everything we learned about self-sufficiency, leadership and problem solving.’ Those are the things that NOLS really does well.”
Anne Magnan, director of custom education at NOLS, says the partnership between NOLS and Lehigh enhances the educational experience for students.
“NOLS works with many universities, but our partnership with Lehigh allowed us to craft a richer curriculum progression than we usually have an opportunity to do,” Magnan says. “The Lehigh Launch program blended NOLS and Lehigh curriculum and faculty that made the outcome greater than the sum of its parts. NOLS strives to create transformational educational experiences, and the Lehigh Launch program really took that to another level.”
New Mexico Returns for Fall 2021
This fall with Lehigh Launch, first-year students will have the opportunity to begin their Lehigh experience backpacking under the Wyoming stars and learning about geology and other matters in the fields, ponds and lakes of New Mexico.
Following a week of virtual activities, including an orientation, students will spend approximately six weeks in Wyoming—first backpacking with NOLS for three weeks, then spending the next three weeks experiencing classroom- and field-based learning with Lehigh faculty. The courses and short field trips, which will cover geology, water resources, politics and literature, will shift to Santa Fe, N.M. for the following three weeks. In New Mexico, Jensen says, students will largely learn about two topics that weave their way through multiple courses: water and energy. Their home base will be Bishop’s Ridge Retreat.
“The students will have the opportunity to be up close to things that normally you might see in the classroom and not be able to relate in the same way,” Jensen says.
The weekend of Oct. 23 will be the first time the new cohort will arrive as students at Lehigh. Once on campus, they will spend the remainder of the semester integrating with the community, living in the residence halls and finishing their Lehigh Launch courses, according to Jensen.
While students entering Lehigh Launch in Fall 2021 won’t read the literature ahead of their travels as the inaugural group did, Kroll says they will have different advantages.
“I think what's going to change dramatically in the fall is students will have a visceral, kinesthetic, gut-level, experiential knowledge of those mountains, of the terrain and of the weather,” Kroll says. “And I think when they read the books, there's going to be an enrichment of their reading experience by having that first.”
Anne Meltzer, professor of earth and environmental sciences, and Pat Farrell, professor of mechanical engineering, will join Jensen and Kroll as faculty members for the 2021 Lehigh Launch program.
Lehigh Launch 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. Students apply through their admissions portal, and earn 16 credit hours while fulfilling distribution requirements in natural science, social science and the humanities, as well as the first-year seminar requirement for many programs. The cost is the same for the semester as it would be if students took a normal slate of classes and lived on campus, and financial aid applies, Jensen explains. Jensen also noted that, unlike a gap semester, Lehigh Launch students will have earned the academic credit needed to rush fraternities or sororities in the spring semester if they wish. After a semester of immersive learning and leadership development, they are well situated to return to campus, join groups and clubs, and engage in the broader campus experience.
For future cohorts, Jensen says Lehigh will offer international study. Lehigh Launch Fall 2022 will have two locations: the American West and Ecuador/Galapagos Islands, with Matherly spearheading the development of the international semester option.
“We are looking for students with great leadership potential,” Jensen says. “We are looking for students who are intellectually curious and have an interest in diving in [to their Lehigh experience] in the West.”