Lehigh President Alice P. Gast, the first woman to serve as the university’s president, announced in early January that she would step down on July 31, 2014, after accepting an appointment as the President of Imperial College London.
“As excited as I am about joining Imperial College London, there is much I will miss about Lehigh,” said Gast in an e-mail to the campus community. “One of the things that drew me to South Mountain is Lehigh’s commitment to its students. Each year I am struck by the personal and intellectual growth of our students over the course of their years here. I feel a special pride in their accomplishments. I will remember and carry with me always their hugs and handshakes at commencement and our many conversations at lunches, dinners and around campus.”
Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 14,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality.
It was ranked 10th in the World University Rankings published by Times Higher Education. Innovative research at the college explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment. Gast will be Imperial’s first woman president.
Brad Eric Scheler, chairman of Lehigh’s Board of Trustees, said after the announcement that a search committee would be appointed in the near term and that he would keep the university community informed about developments in the search process. He praised Gast for her seven-and-a-half years of service as the 13th president in Lehigh’s 148-year history.
“Alice has been a remarkable leader. With boundless energy, enthusiasm, wisdom, judgment and insight, Alice has advanced and best positioned Lehigh to be at the forefront of higher education in the 21st century,” said Scheler. “Her commitment to students and her advocacy with respect to the import of residential research universities in educating leaders and improving society made her the right and ideal leader for Lehigh. We thank Alice for her tireless service and dedication to Lehigh.”
During Gast’s tenure, Lehigh completed a campus-wide strategic planning and implementation process; concluded a $500-million capital campaign and has since raised an additional $225 million in new resources for the university; expanded work in and with the City of Bethlehem; increased the size of the university’s footprint with the addition of the 750-acre Stabler Campus; increased the university’s international presence and has perpetuated and expanded innovative new approaches to student-directed learning with the launch of Lehigh’s Mountaintop Campus initiative.
During her remaining months on South Mountain, Gast will continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion at the university, to build upon the momentum of the Mountaintop initiative, to raise additional resources for the university and to be a resource to the Board of Trustees in ensuring a smooth transition to a new presidency.
In her e-mail, Gast expressed gratitude to Lehigh’s alumni community for continuing to engage students and support initiatives to improve all aspects of the university.
“I have learned a tremendous amount from our alumni and friends and I greatly value my relationships with so many dedicated and passionate supporters. Their commitment to the University and our students is what distinguishes Lehigh University from other institutions,” said Gast.
Before becoming Lehigh’s 13th president, Gast served as vice president for research and associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for almost five years. She served as associate chair of the department of chemical engineering at Stanford University, where she established herself as a world-class researcher and professor.
During her years at Stanford, Gast received the National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award, the National Academy of Science Award for Initiative in Research, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Alexander von Humboldt Award.
Gast continued her work as an international scholar while serving as Lehigh president. In September 2010, she was one of three new science envoys named by the U.S. State Department—a role that includes encouraging U.S. global engagement in science and technology, and advising the White House, the State Department and the U.S. scientific community about the knowledge and insights she gains from her travels and interactions as a private citizen. Her work as a science envoy has included travels to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.
The daughter of a biochemist, Gast began her academic career as a student at the University of Southern California, where she distinguished herself as valedictorian of her graduating class in 1980. She went on to earn her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton University. Before receiving her Ph.D., she accepted a National Science Foundation post-doctoral fellowship at L’Ecole Superieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles in Paris, after which she formally began her research and teaching career as a member of the chemical engineering faculty at Stanford.
As she transitions to the next phase of her career, Gast says she will always fondly recall the memories she’s made over the past several years, which included everything from watching Lehigh’s basketball team upset Duke to events like Spring Fling and Spooktacular. On behalf of her husband, Bradley J. Askins, and her children, Rebecca and David, she thanked the university community for welcoming her family to South Mountain.
“Brad and I have called Lehigh home for the past seven and a half years,” said Gast. “It is our good fortune to have been part of this wonderful, smart, caring and welcoming community.”
Posted on Monday, January 27, 2014