Before sending the campus community off for Thanksgiving break, President Joseph J. Helble ’82 hosted a Community Conversation with students, faculty and staff on Monday, acknowledging challenging world events and providing updates on Lehigh’s strategic plan.
From the outset of his conversation, Helble acknowledged the Hamas terrorist attack in Israel on Oct. 7 and its impact on members of campus. He reminded the audience, gathered in person in the Health Science and Technology Building’s room 101, and tuning in online, that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have no place on campus.
He pointed to Lehigh’s Principles of Equitable Community which are to maintain an inclusive and equitable community for all.
“There are no easy solutions to conflict anywhere in the world, but othering, pointing the finger and starting with ‘they’ does not get us any further,” he said. “Speak in a way we would all like to be spoken to. Kindness and mutual understanding and respect are what we all deserve.”
Helble also provided updates on Lehigh’s strategic plan, Inspiring the Future Makers, and outlined Lehigh’s achievements during the past six months.
There was an incredible amount of campus engagement in the process, he said, with 70% of faculty and more than 50% of staff sharing their ideas for Lehigh’s future. Of the student population, 20% participated—a strong showing considering many of them will only be on campus for a limited amount of time, Helble said.
He highlighted the diversity of Lehigh’s newest students. The applicant pool for last year’s undergraduate class was the largest in the university’s more than 150-year history with 18,415 applicants. Of the first-year class, 19% are recipients of federal Pell grants provided to low- and moderate-income students, and nearly 20% are first-generation students. It is also the first year in Lehigh’s history where there are an equal number of men and women enrolled in classes.
“It’s an incredible testimony to our ability to attract the best and brightest students from across the country and world,” Helble said of the statistics.
Starting next fall, he hopes Lehigh’s commitment to offer a full tuition grant to undergraduate students whose households make less than $75,000 will expand the university’s efforts to ensure students, regardless of socioeconomic status, have the opportunity to achieve their full academic potential.
In his recent travels across the Northeast to meet with alumni and other supporters, Helble said he’s shared the high-level goals of the strategic plan, which include being a national leader in student outcomes, including graduation and job placement rates across demographics.
A big part of the plan is to advance Lehigh’s interdisciplinary education and intercollege programs that are a core part of undergraduate education for many Lehigh students and stand out as unique in the higher education landscape, Helble said.
“We are investing in those, expanding those, adding new ones and building more broadly interdisciplinary opportunities for all students,” Helble said.
The strategic plan identified 10 key initiatives which are getting underway. The initiatives include investing in strategic interdisciplinary research, transforming the Mountaintop campus, enhancing the shared Bethlehem experience, creating an expanded and strengthened research environment and making sure Lehigh is a place for everyone.
Helble said he’s been asked by members of campus when and how they can continue to participate in the plan. Leaders have been announced for each of the 10 key initiatives and they are listed on the strategic plan website. Those who are interested can contact them if they have ideas that should be part of the conversation.
Another way people can get involved is through the Future Maker Strategy Grants recently announced by the Provost and Office of Strategic Planning & Initiatives. The grants offer opportunities for academic departments, centers and institutes, and Lehigh community members to receive grants to support projects in line with the strategic plan. The deadline to apply is Dec. 10.
“I encourage you, if you have an idea, something creative that supports the goals of the strategic plan, and you would like some funding to help develop that, please apply,” Helble said.
Also in keeping with the strategic plan, new intercollege programs involving the College of Health have been proposed and are under review along with research proposals consistent with the key areas of research identified.
There will be a Lehigh-wide meeting on Jan. 31 from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. to provide an overall strategic plan implementation progress update.
Helble reiterated that he knows members of Lehigh have been challenged by recent world events, and are concerned about the impact to the student community.
“The challenge is real, but by and large our students are doing well,” he said. “They are engaging in respectful conversation with one another, they are embracing the educational opportunity that Lehigh provides, and it has been an extraordinary six months for this university with, I’m sure, much more positive to come in 2024.”
In the question-and-answer segment that followed, Helble addressed a variety of topics posed by students, faculty and staff.
With the goal of connecting the Lehigh community, the Community Conversations are intentionally designed for students, faculty and staff to be able to learn together from questions that are asked by fellow community members. Helble plans to host a Community Conversation each semester.