Anand Jagota, vice provost of research.

Anand Jagota, vice provost of research, explains the process for selecting the University Research Centers.

Lehigh’s Strategic Plan: ‘We are Making Progress,’ Helble Says

University leadership updated the Lehigh community on multiple strategic plan initiatives Wednesday at an information session held on the Mountaintop campus.

Story by

Christina Tatu

Photography by

Christa Neu

University leadership provided significant updates on Lehigh’s strategic plan, Inspiring the Future Makers, on Wednesday, including ongoing efforts in research and educational innovation, the transformation of the Mountaintop campus, efforts to create a better student and faculty experience through technological advancements, and the development of university-wide principles governing free speech.

“I hope that if nothing else you walk away from our session today recognizing that there is a lot happening in the implementation phase,” said Lehigh President Joseph J. Helble '82, at the campus-wide gathering online and in person. “And there are many ways in which members of the community not only can, but must, get involved in helping us move toward our goals.”

During the presentation in the Wood Dining Room at Iacocca Hall on the Mountaintop campus, which was also broadcast via Zoom, Helble was joined by Chris Cook, vice president of strategic planning and initiatives; Greg Reihman, vice provost for Library and Technology Services; Provost Nathan Urban and Anand Jagota, vice provost of research.

Among the updates:

Research and Educational Innovation

  • A proposal for “Catastrophe Modeling for Climate, Resilience, and Equity” was announced as the first University Research Center. Led by Paolo Bocchini, professor of structural engineering, the center seeks to identify and explore problems related to the way in which unusual events—hurricanes, pandemics and the like—can create catastrophes because of integrated and interlocking systems they can affect.
  • A team continues to develop ideas for an “exploratory semester” option that would allow students to enroll at Lehigh without initially picking one of the undergraduate colleges. This would provide a structured way for students to learn about which college was best given their interests and career goals.
  • Two new undergraduate living learning communities, with housing available in Warren Square for intercollege students and those interested in entrepreneurship, will open in Fall 2024.
  • University leaders also are exploring the potential for a major renovation of Packard Lab “to put Lehigh at the forefront of engineering education,” Helble said.

Campus Planning and the Mountaintop Campus

  • A team of consultants led by Beyer Blinder Belle is helping to develop a Lehigh campus plan that aligns facilities plans with the strategic plan. A key focus will be the Mountaintop Campus. University leaders will look to engage the campus community in the planning process starting in the spring.
  • A demand study has been conducted for graduate housing, with more details expected later this semester, Helble said.
  • Plans have been submitted to the City of Bethlehem for a one-week “test run” of a one-way loop on Sayre Park Road. Helble said he hopes Lehigh can make the Mountaintop campus and its surroundings, including the experimental forest and the wooded trails, more accessible to walkers, runners and bikers and improve connectivity with the Asa Packer Campus.

Organization of the Future

Work is being done to improve business processes and integrate technology into making it easier for the Lehigh community to navigate all the university offers.

Reihman pointed to Lehigh 360, a searchable database that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to recommend high impact and interdisciplinary learning opportunities to students based on their interests and past experiences. He also talked about LIRA: Lehigh Integrated Research Administration, which is designed to make it simpler to prepare, submit, accept and manage grants. Lehigh’s home page also has been redesigned and updated to make it easier to navigate.

Greg Reihman, vice provost for Library and Technology Services

Greg Reihman, vice provost for Library and Technology Services, discuss the "Organization of the Future."

Reihman, who is serving as lead on the “Organization of the Future” initiative, said university leaders “have to continually be meeting existing needs, adopting emerging technologies, changing how we do things and getting better at what we do as an institution.”

He said campus leaders want to make it even easier for prospective students to find information about Lehigh, or faculty and staff to find information that makes it easier to do their jobs. The goal is to ask a question and quickly get a clear answer without having to go through multiple websites to find information. He called it an “AI concierge,” or artificial intelligence-powered digital assistant that helps the campus community quickly navigate information.

“How do we want to think about a user who wants to find information against a backdrop of very complicated text?...” Reihman asked. He said his team is working to create a cloud-based centralized repository of institutional data that will allow more people across campus to easily ask and answer questions they need to do their work every day.

Free Expression Committee

A committee has been established to develop principles that articulate Lehigh’s commitment to free expression, something Helble said he’s been speaking about in meetings with faculty, staff and student leaders for more than a year.

The committee is chaired by Ziad Munson, professor and chair of the sociology and anthropology department, and includes five faculty members from various colleges, three staff members and two students. It was assembled based on recommendations from the faculty senate, the Council for Equitable Community and others as to thoughtful leaders who are good listeners and consensus builders. The committee has been tasked with giving campus leadership a recommendation on one of three options by the end of spring semester.

“We have support for principles of free expression embedded in our Student Code of Conduct, in our Faculty Principles of Tenure and Promotion, and they exist in our Principles of Equitable Community,” Helble said. “Is that sufficient or would we instead benefit by having something that explicitly and clearly articulates principles of free expression?”

The committee could recommend the adoption of an existing set of principles, principles with a Lehigh-specific preamble, or its own set of guidelines.

In recent travels, including on his first international trip as Lehigh president to Latin America late last year, Helble says he's been sharing the strategic plan with alumni and hopes to see them get involved as well.

"We are making progress toward the initial goals of the strategic plan you all helped this community develop, and I want them to hear that, to sense that and to be excited by that and hopefully join us in supporting our progress towards those goals," he said.

More information about the implementation of projects related to Inspiring the Future Makers is available on the actions underway page.

Story by

Christina Tatu

Photography by

Christa Neu

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