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Lee Iacocca '45, ‘a great son of Lehigh,’ comes home

"It's always good to come back to Lehigh, especially on a fall day," Lee Iacocca '45 tells the crowd gathered for Friday morning's event.

Early Friday morning there was an excitement running through South Mountain. One of Lehigh’s most esteemed alumni, Lee Iacocca ’45, was on campus to introduce a gift that will afford students the opportunity to develop leadership skills, embrace new cultures and perspectives, and put their theories into practice—all skills that helped Iacocca become one of the world’s top business leaders.

The new Lee Iacocca International Internships program will help Lehigh students follow in the footsteps of a leader who has done so much for his alma mater, and so much for the world around him.

“This week there’s been a really special buzz in the air, an unsurpassed spirit in the air,” said President Alice P. Gast at a breakfast to officially launch the Lee Iacocca International Internship Challenge. “A great son of Lehigh is with us here today. Lee Iacocca has come home.”

Iacocca—a legendary business leader known as much for his philanthropic work as he is for being “the father of the Mustang” at Ford and then engineering a revival at Chrysler—will provide up to $5 million in endowment to support a group of international interns each academic year.

As a challenge grant, the gift will match funds raised from other alumni and donors for a potential total funding of $10 million. Iacocca said that amount would allow 150 students to intern overseas each year.

Iacocca encouraged the standing-room-only crowd of faculty, staff, students, alumni and community leaders in the Wood Dining Room at Iacocca Hall to join him in supporting the new program.

“I discovered a few truths,” Iacocca, now 86 years old, said. “The secret is to live long and enjoy life. Part of enjoying life is giving back. And take it from me, giving back really does make you happy.”

‘Taking it up a notch’

The event recognized Iacocca for the most recent of his many contributions to Lehigh. This year, Lehigh’s Iacocca Institute celebrates the 15th anniversary of the Global Village for Future Leaders of Business and Industry, a program that has brought 1,400 young interns to Lehigh from more than 125 countries.

“I’m very proud to play a part in what all of you have accomplished in the last 15 years since the start of Global Village,” said Iacocca. “Now we’re taking it up a notch to introduce the Lehigh International Internships program.” 

Currently, 3.3 million students are studying in a country outside their home country, and more than 700,000 of those students are studying in the United States, Gast said. “The United States is sending about 300,000 students to study internationally each year, and we intend to add more,” she said.

Two Lehigh students who had the opportunity to go overseas as part of the internship’s summer pilot program attended the event to thank Iacocca. Michael Arak ’12 and Meghan Dano ’13 talked about how much their experiences broadened their outlook and instilled confidence.

“We know that these international internships will mean something to the Lehigh students now and in the future,” said Richard Brandt, Director of Global Lehigh and Director of the Iacocca Institute.
 
“This will give Lehigh students a serious competitive edge in the job market,” added Iacocca.

Changing lives

Arak, a student in the Integrated Business and Engineering (IBE) program, with a concentration in finance and industrial engineering, spent this past summer working in the logistics department in the IKEA Turkey Service Department in Istanbul.

“I gained life experiences that couldn’t have been replicated anywhere else,” said Arak, who was a Global Village intern in 2010. “I now have clearer goals for the future, and that includes traveling abroad.”

Dano, also an IBE student with a concentration in chemical engineering, had a similar experience while working for CFC Consulting in Kiev, Ukraine. Despite traveling abroad on her own for the first time, and being unable to speak the Ukrainian language, Dano navigated the culture and was able to work on significant projects to help promote a positive image of Ukraine abroad.

“I learned a great deal about how business works in other countries,” Dano said. “This opened my eyes to so many more possibilities than I ever imagined. This is one of the greatest opportunities Lehigh has to offer. It has truly changed the way I have come to look at the world and how I plan to use the last two years of my time at Lehigh.”

Mohamed El-Aasser, Vice President for International Affairs, said that the Iacocca internships “will ensure that we are now taking Lehigh to the world and bringing the world back to Lehigh.”

“The true hallmark of the 21st century educated student is the inclusion of an international experience,” said El-Aasser, whose office aims to further globalize Lehigh’s mission.

Gast said that the opportunities provided by the Iacocca internships will help Lehigh in its mission to graduate “globally competent, educated citizens—citizens of the world.”

Iacocca earned a degree in industrial engineering from Lehigh in 1945, and later studied politics and plastics at Princeton University. In 1985, he led the fundraising effort to obtain what would become the 742-acre Mountaintop Campus from Bethlehem Steel. He is an honorary member of Lehigh’s Board of Trustees and, in 2010, was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award by Lehigh's Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

Photos by Douglas Benedict

Story by Tricia Long

Posted on Friday, September 16, 2011

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