Helble in Quito

President Joseph J. Helble '82 gives a lecture at Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador as part of their Chancellor’s Lecture Series. Helble is on his first overseas trip as Lehigh's president, and will meet with alumni, students, families and international students in Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala and Panama.

Lehigh President Joseph J. Helble ’82 Kicks off Latin American Tour with Lecture at Universidad San Francisco de Quito

Helble delivered a lecture during his first stop on a tour of Latin America Thursday, highlighting Lehigh’s commitment to interdisciplinary education.

Story by

Christina Tatu

Photography by

Taylor Stakes

Lehigh President Joseph J. Helble ’82 delivered a lecture at Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) in Ecuador on Thursday, addressing the importance of interdisciplinary education and Lehigh’s commitment to deliver the broadest education possible to students.

A well-rounded education merges instruction in liberal arts, technical arts and business education, he said. Liberal arts as an approach—and not as specific content—is even more relevant today, he added, considering how quickly the world is changing and the emergence of new technologies such as generative artificial intelligence.

Lehigh has a long history of intercollege programs, and there are plans to expand that type of education, Helble said, sharing Lehigh’s goals as outlined in its strategic plan, Inspiring the Future Makers.

“The idea, at a high level, is to do things that are innovative and creative, that are impactful for the world, and that we do collaboratively as a community,” he said. “To innovate, to be very applied in our thinking, to try and solve the problems of today in a very grounded, down to earth fashion, and be collaborative and community focused in all that we do.”

His visit to Quito on Thursday was the first stop on his first overseas trip as Lehigh president. Helble is visiting Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala and Panama to connect with alumni, students, families and international colleagues. His lecture, called “Radical Interdisciplinarity: A Broadened Approach to Undergraduate Education,” was part of USFQ’s Chancellor’s Lecture Series. The series has featured prestigious speakers from all around the world, including Nobel Laureates, former heads of state, business leaders and distinguished scholars.

Lehigh’s strategic plan has six key initiatives, but the first one, intentionally, is, to develop a “deeply interdisciplinary education,” Helble said.

In fact, Helble said, he is arguing for a radically interdisciplinary education “to expand our understanding of what, for our students, a liberal arts education can and should be.”

“To make sure that the students in the liberal arts and humanities are getting fundamental exposure to concepts from technology and business, and that those concepts are also infusing everything we do in business, and in technology or engineering education. To think about that, not just at the undergraduate level, but at the graduate level as well.”

Helble in Quito

Joseph J. Helble '83 speaks at Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador.

He shared Lehigh’s goals for expanding interdisciplinary education, which include developing new intercollege programs with Lehigh’s College of Health, to be announced during the Fall 2024 semester.

There are also plans to develop an integrated first semester, or first year, that brings together technology, business and the arts and humanities in a structured way that students can use as a framework to move in any of those three directions, or to study problems in community health.

Helble also wants to bring a similar interdisciplinary approach to Lehigh’s Ph.D. program.

During the lecture, he also talked about Lehigh’s international community and said Lehigh welcomes students from international partner universities such as USFQ.

This semester, Lehigh welcomed 438 international undergraduate students, about 8% of its total undergraduate class. There are 1,036 international graduate students, which make up more than 50% of Lehigh’s graduate class. The top undergraduate countries of origin are China, Vietnam and India. There are currently 101 students from Latin America.

Other stops along Helble’s tour include a visit to the Galapagos Islands to meet with students participating in Lehigh Launch, an experiential, integrative learning experience for first-year Lehigh students; Bogotá, Colombia; Panama City, Panama; and Guatemala City, Guatemala. The tour concludes Dec. 6.

In each country, Helble and colleagues will attend events hosted by Lehigh alumni who live and work overseas, and he will provide updates on what’s happening at Lehigh.

Helble’s trip to Latin America is aligned with Lehigh’s strategic plan, which calls for broadening the university’s global perspective and impact.

Story by

Christina Tatu

Photography by

Taylor Stakes

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