Lee Iacocca ’45, the visionary auto executive widely considered one of the most influential business and philanthropic leaders of the past century, and Paul E. Torgersen ’53, whose esteemed academic career includes serving as the 14th president of Virginia Tech, were honored with Distinguished Alumni Awards by Lehigh’s Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) Department Thursday evening.
Iacocca, whose years at the helm of Ford Motor Company and then Chrysler Corporation were marked by innovation and success, received the ISE Distinguished Alumni Award in Industry. Although he was unable to attend the awards banquet held in Iacocca Hall, Iacocca did appear on a pre-recorded video accepting his award from Tamás Terlaky, the George N. and Soteria Kledaras ’87 Endowed Professor and Chair of ISE.
Watch the special video of Lee Iacocca '45 accepting the ISE Distinguished Alumni Award in Industry from Tamás Terlaky.
“You know, there’s something about South Mountain that attracts the best from around the world,” Iacocca told Terlaky in the video. “Lehigh University has always held a special place in my heart.”
Iacocca, who as a member of Lehigh’s Board of Trustees chaired the fundraising campaign to purchase the Mountaintop Campus from Bethlehem Steel and jointly started the Iacocca Institute in 1988, said he accepted the award “in honor of current and future Lehigh students who have continued to lead and shape the world.”
At the awards ceremony, Iacocca’s sister, Delma Kelechava, was presented with the plaque by Terlaky following the video screening.
Torgersen, who attended Lehigh on a tennis scholarship and went on to earn his M.S. and Ph.D. from Ohio State University, received the ISE Distinguished Alumni Award in Academia.
He started his career at Virginia Tech in 1967 as head of the Industrial Systems Department and became Dean of Engineering three years later. In 1990, he was named president of Virginia Tech’s Corporate Research Center and, in 1993, began a seven-year term as the 14th president of Virginia Tech. Torgersen, who retired in January 2000, has served as chairman of the ASEE Engineering Dean’s Council, was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, and has authored or co-authored five books.
“During his term as president, he continued to teach at least one class per semester,” Lehigh Provost Pat Farrell said in introducing Torgersen. “And I understand from talking to Paul just now that he is still teaching at least one class per semester and he has to get on a flight back because he has a class tomorrow morning.”
Torgersen, in accepting the award, recounted the humorous tale of how he started out studying electrical engineering at Lehigh, “which didn’t fit.” So he switched to industrial and systems engineering and, with each step as he graduated, earned his master’s and doctorate degrees, and started teaching at the university level, “My father was pleased, but it’s too bad it wasn’t electrical engineering.”
Finally, Torgersen said, he called his father to tell him he had been named Dean of Engineering. When his father asked what the dean did, Torgersen replied: “Dad, the electrical engineering department reports to the dean.”