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Zeitler named director of Lehighs South Mountain College

Peter Zeitler

Peter Zeitler, Iacocca Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and chair of the department, has been named director of South Mountain College, a new, residential academic program developed within the Lehigh University’s College of Arts and Sciences.

South Mountain College is designed to bring together a community of students and faculty dedicated to the exploration of intellectually exciting and significant topics of investigation. The students in this college will work in a fluid, interactive and experiential environment, and will be offered the opportunity to assume the responsibility of their curriculum structure. Assisted by core faculty, the students will draw from the intellectual expertise of the university as a whole.

Students have already been recruited for the first year of the program, which will begin with the Fall 2007 semester.

Zeitler has provided leadership for the planning of the new endeavor and has already demonstrated his deep commitment to the success of South Mountain College, according to Anne Meltzer, the Herbert J. and Ann L. Siegel Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“South Mountain College has the potential to help change the culture and climate at Lehigh and to provide a truly new and innovative approach to preparing our students to lead successful and meaningful lives after Lehigh,” says Meltzer. “Given that challenge, Professor Zeitler is uniquely qualified to lead this initiative.”

Zeitler feels that one of the most intriguing and exciting aspects of South Mountain College is the way it will “help students and faculty transcend disciplinary boundaries as they focus their diverse expertise and experience on examining ideas, issues and problems.”

After all, he says, “what’s real are those ideas and issues and problems, not the artificial constraints that a disciplinary approach can bring.”

Zeitler notes that what makes South Mountain College different from broadly similar programs is that its students will have traditional majors and therefore advanced expertise, deflecting the common criticism that cross-disciplinary programs lead to a lack of depth.

Michael Raposa, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, sees Zeitler as “an excellent choice to build on the foundation that has been established in the planning process—a process in which he played a key role.

“He has long been an advocate of cross-disciplinary learning and is a strong proponent of the values that have shaped South Mountain College,” Raposa says. “He is a superb scholar, a dedicated teacher and someone who clearly understands the vital link between research and pedagogy.”

Raposa adds that South Mountain College will “add something truly special to Lehigh, the supportive environment for a kind of creative inquiry and learning that we hope will flourish there, but also spread naturally throughout the university community. I look forward to watching South Mountain College blossom under his direction."

A record of excellence

In 2006, Zeitler was awarded the CAS Iacocca Professorship in honor of his record of excellence in research, teaching, and service. The designation goes to a faculty member with a demonstrated ability to support and enhance the mission of the Iacocca Institute to develop global leadership.

His most recent research has focused on regional-scale tectonics and geodynamics, with particular emphasis on the influence surface processes can have on tectonic processes and evolution. A trained geochronologist, Zeitler conducts studies utilizing the full range of noble-gas geochronology techniques, with particular expertise in the application of lower-temperature thermochronology to tectonics. An additional interest is refinement of the techniques of thermochronology.

Recent and current projects include:

• the recently completed Nanga Parbat Continental Dynamics Project, an integrated multidisciplinary study of the Nanga Parbat massif in the Pakistan Himalayas, aimed at understanding the processes which rework and overprint the continental lithosphere during orogeny (the project involved coordinated contributions from geochronology, seismology and geophysics, structural geology, petrology, geomorphology, and isotope geochemistry).

• a U-Th/He study of the low-temperature thermal evolution and erosion history of the Kohistan block in northern Pakistan, in collaboration with Dr. M. Asif Khan of the University of Peshawar.

• a post-orogenic erosion history of the Appalachians, using U-Th/He dating of apatite, in collaboration with Frank Pazzaglia, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, and Bruce Idleman, research scientist in earth and environmental sciences at Lehigh.

evolution of the indentor corner at the eastern end of the Himalaya-Tibet collision zone. This integrated multidisciplinary study, funded by NSF's Continental Dynamics Program and started in 2000, looks at the complex 4D deformation near a plate edge during collision.

Zeitler joined the Lehigh faculty as assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences in 1988 and was promoted to associate professor in 1991. He was promoted to full professor in 1996. Prior to his appointment at Lehigh, he served as research fellow at the Research School of Earth Sciences at Australian National University.

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Friday, May 11, 2007

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