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Lehigh celebrates 100 years of business education

One hundred years ago, Lehigh University launched a four-year business program that would eventually become one of the nation’s most respected colleges of business.

It’s a long and storied history that will be celebrated over the course of the next fourteen months by the Lehigh community.

“It’s such an incredibly interesting time to celebrate 100 years of business education,” says Paul R. Brown, dean of Lehigh’s College of Business and Economics. “With the world of business at a crossroads, what better time to reflect not only on our past, but on a future that demands we look at business in a new light.”

An eye on the future

In the past few years, Lehigh’s business program has been consistently recognized by BusinessWeek magazine as one of America’s most academically challenging. Brown says he expects that to continue as the college embarks on a second century of undergraduate and graduate education.

He has history on his side. Applications to Lehigh’s undergraduate business program have reached an all-time high in the past five years. To accommodate the demand, the college has continued to strengthen its faculty rank, adding more than 20 new faculty members since 2007 alone. Among them are two new Joseph R. Perella and Amy M. Perella Chairs.

The college has also expanded its curriculum to address such contemporary challenges as globalization, healthcare and business ethics.

“We’re clearly at a turning point,” Brown says. “Students leave Lehigh with a keen understanding of the changing dynamics of business and what it takes to leave an imprint in society.

“That’s what we intend to showcase over the next few months here at Lehigh,” he adds. “Not only are we honoring a legacy of success, but we’re preparing a new crop of leaders to shape the business landscape.”

In the beginning

Originally created in 1910 to support the mining, metals and transportation industries—and, by extension, its ubiquitous neighbor, Bethlehem Steel—Lehigh’s business program was first offered as an alternative for students less interested in the university’s highly regarded engineering and science curricula.

The launch of the business program coincided with an ambitious—and tumultuous—time in American business. The 1910’s saw the creation of the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Banking System, and significant updates to the nation’s antitrust laws.

Sixteen students registered for the new four-year program, which would gain in popularity in its first decade as it diversified its curriculum and added new faculty. Lehigh’s first business students were among the university’s most interdisciplinary, having to take such classes as mechanical drawing, commercial geography, physiography, public law and chemistry.

That started to change in 1936, when the College of Business Administration named its longtime program head, Neil Carothers, as its first dean. Within his first year, Carothers established the departments of Accounting, Finance, and Economics and Sociology—the first official departments within the college. Sociology courses would remain under the business college until 1963, when they were transferred to Lehigh’s College of Arts and Science.

Shortly after, Lehigh became a member of what would become the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business, joining an elite list of just 48 schools nationwide. It’s an affiliation the college still holds with pride today.

Balancing research and teaching

Once primarily focused on undergraduate education, Lehigh expanded its business program in 1951 to include an M.B.A. degree. By 1957, the M.B.A. program was the second largest master’s program at Lehigh, second in size only to the university’s masters in education. It would continue to add graduate-level M.S. programs throughout the 1960s—a time when the college started to emphasize its research.

More recently, the college has harkened back to its roots in building a slate of fully integrated, cross disciplinary programs, including Integrated Business and Engineering (IBE), Computer Science and Business (CSB) and the M.B.A. and Engineering (MBA&E) programs.

Today, Brown says the college is dedicated to balancing its teaching with cutting-edge research—a difficult proposition given the college’s relatively small size. To do this, he has ambitious goals to reintroduce the college’s four primary research centers: the Center for Value Chain Research, the Murray H. Goodman Center for Real Estate Studies, the Financial Services Laboratory, and the Martindale Center for the Study of Private Enterprise.

“Traditionally, the strength of Lehigh’s College of Business and Economics has always been the quality of our faculty and students. That’s been the case for most of our existence,” Brown says. “It’s why our program is highly regarded 100 years after it was founded.”

“Now we have an opportunity to share that story and shine the spotlight on how we’re making real, tangible contributions to the market,” he says. “It’s an exciting platform on which to build another 100 years of business education.”

--Tom Yencho

Posted on Monday, August 24, 2009

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