Lehigh University
Lehigh University


The professor who changed my life II

We asked our alumni to tell us about the professors they had at Lehigh who really made a difference in their lives, and the response was great! In the stories that follow, you’ll read about four extraordinary faculty members. In the coming months, we’ll continue to post more of your stories, so be sure to check back.

Richard Gonce, economics
By Fred Fraenkel ’71

During my undergraduate experience at Lehigh from 1967-1971, I had some truly great teachers.  One of the best teachers in College of Business and Economics history, Richard Aronson, taught me micro-economics and I had Eli Schwartz for corporate finance. Nicholas Balabkins taught me macro and I honestly can say I don't remember having any bad teachers.

However, one unassuming assistant professor had the biggest influence on my career and professional life. Richard Gonce, who was almost a recluse, taught me the history of economics. He taught me how to think and infected me with his passion for economics. When he taught the lessons of the masters of the economics universe, there was always a twinkle in his eye when he came to the point of the contribution that a great economist had made.

Everything I've done professionally has been affected by my top-down view of the world. Richard Gonce opened my eyes to this view.

John Pearson, speech and theater
By Celeste Varricchio ’73

I met John Pearson in the spring of 1972. He was hired to succeed the retiring Professor H. Barrett Davis as director of the division of speech and theater and director of Mustard and Cheese. It was clear from that initial meeting that John’s ideas were his own, and that those ideas knew no bounds! 
John Pearson believed that theater was everywhere, and could be done anywhere. From You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown in front of Linderman Library to A Comedy of Errors in a geodesic balloon inside Grace Hall, that 1972-73 season was memorable. John taught all of us to think outside the box, and to make our own opportunities.

As a senior, sure that she wanted to pursue a future in the theater, but unsure of how to do it, I soaked up his ideas and his philosophies like a sponge. His teaching reached far beyond the classrooms, urging us to voice our goals aloud and everyday to ourselves to keep us on track. He encouraged me to compete in national auditions for post-graduate appointments. He coached me from regionals to finals to receiving several offers.

Then, he gave me the one piece of advice which changed my life—“Celeste, if you want to learn about American theater, go to the Dallas (Texas) Theater Center and study with Paul Baker.” (John had studied with Mr. Baker at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.)  I took John’s advice, and found myself heading south to Texas that fall of 1973.

Unfortunately, I had the opportunity to work and study with John only that one year. Even more unfortunate was his untimely death a few years later. 

What I learned from Paul Baker forged me into the theater artist I have become, but it was John Pearson who was the catalyst.

Gary Whitehouse, industrial and systems engineering
By Charles H. Mullen ’68

While attending Lehigh on an AT&T Fellowship in 1966-68, I took on the task of defining a probability distribution for a sampling plan to fulfill the thesis requirement. After several months of intense toil and virtually no progress to show for it, I was starting to wish I had pursued a literature-search thesis instead.

But, very fortuitously, Professor Gary Whitehouse—who taught one of the courses in the Operations Research Curriculum we were pursuing—shined a light that took me out of the darkness. At the end of one of his lectures, he gave us a glimpse of a program that he had co-authored with a professor from Arizona – it was titled GERT (Graphical Evaluation Review Technique). As he described it, the thought occurred to me that this was the tool that might get me out of the woods. After class, I collared him for some assurance that my enthusiasm was not in vain. He was very encouraging and followed up by asking me about my progress for several weeks to come. A few months later, he shortened his lecture and asked me to brief the class on my GERT usage. 

A very complex computer program was required to solve for the resultant GERT probabilities that characterized the distribution—I took a lot of heat for using so much computer time, but the outcome was nonargumentative. Several years later, the thesis fell into the hands of a Duke University professor who requested I present it at a faculty seminar that he was coordinating. Our AT&T Bell Labs probability and statistics division also took a studied interest in it. 

So, Professor Gary Whitehouse, my hope is that GERT served you as well as it served me.  Thanks again for saving my bacon.

Robert J. Sullivan, journalism
By Dennis Sprick ’78

Short and simple answer: journalism professor Robert J. Sullivan. I took his copy-editing class my sophomore fall in 1975, and soon after class began he recommended that I join the copy desk of the Brown and White. That class and his encouragement showed me that I didn't have to be a reporter, which didn't suit my personality, to work for a newspaper. Being a copy editor won me my first job out of college and my current job at the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., where I've been for 30 years and where, for 11 years, I was able to pursue my other professional desire, to be a Broadway critic and film critic. Plus, I loved Sullivan's low-key personality and good humor.

Story by Jack Croft

Posted on Wednesday, March 31, 2010

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