As I think about my time at Lehigh, I am guided by what brought me here almost eight years ago. It is Lehigh’s commitment to its students, a commitment beyond just providing the best faculty and best facilities. It is a commitment to creating an environment that provides students opportunities to explore and to grow, both intellectually and personally.
I think the value of a college education is determined by what our graduates become in their years after Lehigh. It is the contributions they make to society and the fulfillment they feel in their careers and in their lives that are the best measures of the value of their years here. These contributions and fulfillment are evident in the great stories our alumni bring back, stories of lives well lived.
Lehigh has a strong history of helping students to learn to think critically, to bring their knowledge to bear on open-ended problems, and to work together in diverse teams. The Mountaintop program is our most recent and boldest effort to give students the chance to do this. It will put Lehigh in the vanguard of innovation in higher education.
Last summer 35 students participated in five pilot projects at Mountaintop. If you have not already done so, please look at the video highlighting these Mountaintop projects, which can be seen at our new Mountaintop site, Lehigh.edu/mountaintop. Their words capture, better than mine ever could, the excitement of pursuing intellectual passions in a unique learning environment.
Scott Belair’s generous gift allows us to begin turning Buildings B and C into extraordinary spaces of learning and discovery. This coming summer students will conduct a second set of Mountaintop pilot projects. From there Mountaintop will evolve and grow in phases. To fully realize our vision and ambitions for this project, we hope to raise as much as $200 million—$100 million for capital investments, and another $100 million in endowment to support the programming that will make those buildings so revolutionary.
In addition to great spaces, an environment that provides students opportunities to explore and to grow, both intellectually and personally, requires mutual respect and cultural understanding. A diverse student body enriches our campus, and enhances the learning experience for all students. Learning to work and live with people, who come from different backgrounds, and have different views, is essential to a fulfilling and successful life. Learning can take place at times when there is disagreement, and when we come together when there are conflicts.
An ugly incident at the UMOJA House this past November, when there was racist spray painting and eggs thrown at the house in the middle of the night, demonstrated that we still have work to do to create the welcoming climate of mutual respect and understanding that we want. Soon after the incident, some 1,600 members of the Lehigh community gathered at the flagpole in the center of campus to condemn all acts of intolerance and aggression. Hurtful actions take many forms, some more visible than others. All are corrosive to a healthy environment. All are unacceptable.
As the rally demonstrated, the Lehigh community stands united in its condemnation of the unacceptable and its commitment to a more inclusive Lehigh. I believe that we are on the right path. I will continue to do all I can to make Lehigh a place where every student feels comfortable, where every student feels at home.
Lehigh University is an institution made strong by its great people. Lehigh’s alumni, parents, faculty, staff and friends are ambassadors and supporters, and important role models for our students. You are the defining part of Lehigh’s commitment to its students that makes South Mountain the special place that it is.
I want to thank the many of you who have wished me well in my new position as President of Imperial College London. Now is not the time for goodbyes. There is more to do, and I look forward to the days and months ahead at Lehigh as we create an environment that provides students opportunities to explore and to grow, both intellectually and personally.
Alice P. Gast
Posted on Monday, January 27, 2014