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Town Hall meeting builds on the ‘why’

Watch the video "Why did you choose Lehigh?"

At the latest in an ongoing series of Town Halls, Lehigh President Alice Gast welcomed approximately 350 faculty and staff members into the legendary “Snake Pit” of Leeman-Turner Arena in Grace Hall.

She noted that the setting was fitting as it is the storied location where Lehigh’s wrestling and volleyball teams compete, while the university’s faculty and staff who had gathered were wrestling with the grand challenges of a rapidly changing and increasingly global society.

Gast spoke of the fresh energy that comes each fall, introducing a short video (see video in right-hand column) in which dozens of students, faculty and staff answer the question:  “Why did you choose Lehigh?”

Afterward, she noted that Simon Sinek, author of the book Start With Why, asserts that inspired organizations don’t begin with the “what” or the “how” when tackling a challenge, but instead they first ask “why?”

Gast told the audience that Lehigh’s “why” is clear in its three-fold mission of teaching, research and service. She expressed the belief that Lehigh is a unique place where these elements are integrated.

“I believe there are no boundaries between creating new knowledge, educating future leaders, and serving our community,” she said.

Gast listed several of the university’s recent major accomplishments that have resulted from this integrated mission, including:

  • prestigious grant awards.
  • the establishment of the Smith Funds for Research and Innovation in Science and Engineering by Daniel E. Smith, Jr. ’71, chairman of Lehigh University’s Board of Trustees, and his wife, Elizabeth Riley.
  • the creation of the Dexter F. Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation.
  • the opening of the STEPS building.

‘People at Lehigh intend to change the world’

Gast then introduced Provost Pat Farrell, who observed that Lehigh’s graduates take on leadership roles in uncommonly high numbers, and that the university community has an unusual ability to work in an interdisciplinary fashion. Farrell told the group that this was, in his view, because, “People at Lehigh intend to change the world, and they really believe they can.”

Farrell’s comments were followed by a series of brief presentations to review the progress made by working groups dedicated to four major university initiatives: Creating a Comprehensive First-Year Experience, Cluster Faculty Hiring, Enhancing Graduate Education, and Engaging the University in the South Side Bethlehem Community.  Full reports from all of the working groups are available on the Strategic Plan Implementation Web site (login required).

M.J. Bishop, associate professor of education and human services, and Allison Gulati, associate dean of students, said that the group examining the First-Year Experience is planning to pilot an interdisciplinary, first-year course designed to produce important outcomes in the areas of intellectual, interpersonal and identity development. 

Questions and comments were encouraged throughout the event. Jame’l Hodges, director of multicultural affairs, asked how students would be recruited for the pilot courses. Bishop and Gulati explained that the courses would be marketed broadly, but that they would also seek a representative sample of Lehigh’s student body to ensure the pilot’s results are useful.

Dan Lopresti, professor of computer science and engineering, and Anne-Marie Anderson, associate professor of finance and law, discussed plans to implement cluster faculty hiring in the next academic year.

Speaking on behalf of the group working to enhance the graduate education experience at Lehigh, Mike Stavola, professor of physics, shared that they had identified a number of high priorities and had formed a working group to address them. Stavola was asked how they would address the diversity of the graduate programs offered at Lehigh. He noted that while the various programs had different needs, they could all benefit from a comprehensive set of initiatives.

Dale Kochard, assistant vice president for community and regional affairs, brought faculty and staff up to date on Community Engagement efforts, including the role of Lehigh students in designing the Greenway linear park that will run the length of Lehigh’s South Side Bethlehem neighborhood.

During the final question and answer period, Rochelle Goodman, assistant vice president of leadership gifts, asked if the implication of advancing four major initiatives was that Lehigh would need to “sunset” other items, given that fiscal responsibility is always top-of-mind in managing the university. Farrell agreed that when looking ahead, it is wise to regularly assess where the university can best use its resources, and that sometimes tradeoffs do occur.

After the presentations, Farrell asked the audience to look at a list of possible next “big ideas” for Lehigh. He urged faculty and staff to start thinking about the future generation of challenges and needs. “It’s never too early,” noted Farrell. 

Story by Hillary Kwiatek

Posted on Thursday, October 14, 2010

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