Peter Bennett '63 (far right) with Sally White (left) and Lehigh President Alice P. Gast (center).
As the president and CEO of Liberty Partners, a successful Manhattan-based investment company, Peter Bennett ’63 is an expert at identifying worthwhile investment opportunities.
That’s why Bennett decided to make a substantial investment not only in his alma mater and in Lehigh’s College of Education, but also in this nation’s urban areas by donating $2.25 million on Oct. 13 to endow a new Center for Urban Leadership as well as a new executive director for the center.
The center will create research and professional programs to educate the next generation of urban leaders. The center will help Lehigh develop effective educational leaders, who, in turn, will promote improvements in cities nationwide.
“Students, teachers and principals will all greatly benefit from stronger leadership and direction in America’s urban schools,” Bennett says. “I hope this gift will help close the achievement gap in our urban schools, with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of inner city students.”
Faculty from across Lehigh will be encouraged to participate in the new center’s interdisciplinary research and education programs, helping urban leaders put tested science into practice in areas such as education and non-profit organizations.
“Higher education has a long history of improving people’s lives by addressing urgent social problems,” says Lehigh President Alice P. Gast. “This generous gift from Peter Bennett will enable Lehigh faculty and students to apply their research and leadership skills to help inner city residents live, learn and work in a better environment. I am confident this Center for Urban Leadership will become another positive example of Lehigh faculty leading the way for students to put research into practice.”
Starting next fall, Bennett’s initial gift will go toward the recruitment and selection of an endowed, full professor at Lehigh, who also will serve as the executive director of the center. This position will be filled by someone with real-world experience as an urban principal.
To make this new center self-sustaining, Lehigh, with Bennett’s continued support, is committed to raising an additional $2.75 million over the next several years.
“An incubator of innovation”
“Our center will be unique in its focus on all three aspects of the educational process—research to development to practice—that provide the knowledge and skills future leaders need to reform schools all across America,” says College of Education Dean Sally A. White. “This new center will be an incubator of innovation for new ideas that can be disseminated into practice so urban educational leaders can inspire and sustain the change that builds capacity in our nation’s urban schools.”
Lehigh has been in the forefront of efforts to help large, urban and disadvantaged school districts attract, develop and retain individuals for leadership positions. The College of Education has been working, for example, to help increase the number of principals through its Philadelphia Urban Leadership Development Program.
Bennett was impressed by the work and early successes of the Philadelphia Urban Leadership Program, funded three years ago by the U.S. Department of Education, as a joint effort among Lehigh University’s College of Education, the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the Philadelphia School District. To date, this program has educated 21 aspiring principals to lead urban schools in the City of Philadelphia.
Bennett is currently chairman and CEO of Liberty Partners, a private investment company formed in 1992 to provide capital to leveraged buyouts of mid-sized companies. His dedication to educating stronger urban leaders crystallized, in part, when his company purchased Edison Schools Inc., and he learned firsthand how high-quality, well-trained leaders can determine the success of a school.
Bennett is currently a member of the university’s College of Education advisory board, and was a member of the board of trustees of Lehigh University from 1999 to 2005.
He endowed the Peter E. Bennett Scholarship, and established the Peter E. Bennett Chair in the College of Business & Economics, which is now held by Associate Professor James Hall, co-director of the computer science and business program.
Bonnie Devlin, vice president for advancement, says that Bennett’s latest gifts to Lehigh builds on his long-standing commitment to improve urban schools.
“Peter’s gift is particularly exciting because it is the first chair for the College of Education,” Devlin says.
She notes that Bennett’s gift to the College of Education brings to 24 the total number of new endowed chairs created through Shine Forever
: The Campaign for Lehigh. Endowed chairs and scholarships are the two top priorities for Lehigh’s $500 million campaign.
Bennett earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration from Lehigh in 1963. He went on to serve two years as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army before he earned his MBA from the Columbia Graduate School of Business. He then spent 21 years at Merrill Lynch as a managing director in investment banking and as a senior vice president of Merrill Lynch Interfunding Inc.
Lehigh’s College of Education students receive national awards for their outstanding achievement in scholarship, and its faculty members are internationally recognized researchers and award-winning mentors who bring their knowledge and expertise to the classroom. Lehigh’s College of Education is consistently ranked as one of the top graduate schools of education in the country.
Photo by Theo Anderson