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Rigorous IBE curriculum is no match for a student with uncommon drive

On Commencement Day, May 24, 2004, Jon Gardenier drove for 40 cautious minutes from his home in Harleysville, Pa., to receive his M.S. in Management Science at Goodman Stadium.

Just four months earlier, driving to winter commencement in January to pick up his B.S. in Integrated Business Engineering (IBE), Gardenier was in a serious accident along an icy stretch of Route 309 south of Quakertown in his Jeep Grand Cherokee.

When he awoke later, he was in traction at Lehigh Valley Hospital, with torn knee ligaments, two broken bones in his left arm, severe lacerations to his scalp, a broken pelvis and tailbone, and a bruised bone in his right knee.

He remembered nothing of the accident but he did recall the cell phone number of his parents, who had driven separately to Lehigh’s commencement.

The accident caused Gardenier to miss three weeks of class, but it has amounted to little more than a minor speed bump in an academic career whose speed and focus have been nothing short of breathtaking.

In just four years, Gardenier completed a B.S. and M.S. in two technical fields, along with a handful of Ph.D. courses.

During all four years, he worked full-time as a computer systems analyst for Personal Health Systems Inc., an insurance and financial services company in Souderton. He designed databases and maintained the network, creating new reporting system to interface with clients so reports could be e-mailed instantly to PHS’s 300 agents.

Some of Gardenier’s success can be chalked up to good fortune. On the day of his traffic accident, for example, the motorist who stopped to help happened to be carrying a fire extinguisher and a cell phone. He snuffed out the engine fire before it could engulf Jon’s Jeep, then called emergency medical technicians to extricate Jon from the back seat.

Later, recovering and restless in the hospital, Gardenier was visited by professors from the IBE program, who brought good cheer and contacted his other professors to get his work for him so he could have the chance to keep up in his management science classes.

“I have really great professors,” says Gardenier. “They helped me out and gave me work to do at home so I could catch up.

“I was lucky. The good Lord blessed me.”

Gardenier thrives on competition and challenge. At Souderton Area High School, he and a group of classmates engaged in a good-natured contest to finish first academically. Gardenier took four years of programming, completed AP courses in calculus, physics, English and science, and graduated at the head of his class.

At Lehigh, even while working for Personal Health Systems, Gardenier often sought permission from his professors to take 20 or more credits a semester.

“I like to push myself; I don’t like to be idle. Having a job made me learn how to work around things. But the interesting thing is, my GPA was actually higher when I was taking 19 or 20 credits. I get an adrenaline rush; it keeps me going.”

Gardenier originally planned to study physics at Cornell, but changed his mind after receiving a postcard advertising Lehigh’s new IBE honors program. He applied, read up on the program, won a $10,000 Dean’s Scholarship, and enrolled at Lehigh. For his IBE concentration, he chose industrial engineering (IE).

“Engineering has always excited me,” says Gardenier, “but it turned out I liked business and optimization as well. The IBE program has been ideal for me because it gives you the technical skills and theory as well as the core business courses and tools.”

Gardenier gained those skills in courses in optimization, manufacturing systems and tools, mechanics, physics, chemistry and materials science. A foreign language is also required of IBE students; Jon had fulfilled this by taking five years of Spanish in high school and middle school.

The IBE program culminates with a yearlong capstone design course, in which teams of students solve problems or make products for industrial companies. Gardenier’s team, which contained students in marketing, chemistry, chemical engineering, computer science and industrial engineering, worked with CDG Technologies, a South Bethlehem water-purification company.

“Our professors taught us how to do consulting,” says Gardenier. “CDG wanted us to focus on one area; the professors encouraged us to take on more and surprise them.”

The students developed ways to reuse the 55-gallon steel drums that were used only once to transport water-purification products that get rid of a toxic by-product. The students also developed a new method of marketing CDG’s products and services to water-treatment plants.

The capstone course was an outgrowth of the IBE freshman project course, in which students analyzed tools and other gadgets, taking them apart to see how they worked, finding a way to improve their performance, then putting them back together. Jon’s team redesigned a Black and Decker rotary tool to make it more ergonomical and cheaper to produce.

The IBE program also features freshman seminar classes. Gardenier’s class was visited by Warren V. “Pete” Musser ‘53, founder and former CEO of Safeguard Scientifics Inc., who advised students not to put all their eggs in one basket. Other speakers included Wall Street brokers who discussed option pricing models and dynamic hedging.

Gardenier liked the rigor of the IBE program.

“I feel I’ll be able to use what I’ve learned here in the future. I got all the business core courses and all the technical background of an engineer. In the real world, I’ll be able to understand what the engineers tell me if I’m a manager, or if I’m an engineer creating something I think is great, I’ll have a better idea whether or not it’s financially feasible.”

Gardenier compiled an undergraduate GPA of 3.8, qualifying for a Presidential Scholarship, which grants a tuition-free extra year of study. Students typically use the award to pursue a master’s degree. Gardenier, still ahead of the game, is working on a Ph.D.

“Lehigh offers a lot of incentives,” he says. “Between the Dean’s Scholarship, the Presidential Scholarship and commuting to school, I saved close to $100,000 and got a top-notch education.”

Today, five months after his accident, Gardenier is able to get around without a cain or wheelchair. However, his road to recovery is still far from completion as he is slated for ACL surgery in July. The doctors tell Gardenier that it will be another 6 months of rigorous physical therapy.

Gardenier is considering getting his Ph.D. in industrial engineering, a field that has strong ties with business and whose faculty he knows well.

“I like the technical background of business,” he says. “That seems to be where I have a competitive edge over others.”

“Also, the IE professors are great,” he says. “I have friends at larger colleges who say that getting in touch with faculty was the hardest part of the program. Here, if I don’t understand something in class, the professors make time for me outside of class; they call or send e-mail. This was especially important for me, having to miss three weeks of class last semester.”

Posted on Sunday, August 01, 2004

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