The Lehigh family turned out en masse to welcome new President Alice P. Gast Thursday at the annual University Picnic.
The extreme heat and humidity caused the picnic to be moved indoors to Wood Dining Hall, and led Gast to quip: “I’ll take full responsibility for the heat wave as the new president. I’m trying hard to turn it off.”
Gast, a world-renowned researcher and the former vice president for research and associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, officially assumed the duties of Lehigh president on Tuesday. During her brief remarks at the picnic, she praised the “devotion and dedication” that goes on year-round, behind-the-scenes, to make Lehigh a great university.
“It’s really the hard work of all of you and everyone in the Lehigh family that makes that happen,” she said.
Gast also thanked her new “Lehigh family” for “the warm embrace” given to her own family, who she introduced to the gathering: husband, Bradley J. Askins, a computer scientist specializing in the performance of large scale databases and computer systems, and children Rebecca, 12, and David, 10.
Gast was hired in May as Lehigh’s 13th president, succeeding Gregory Farrington, who stepped down after eight years at the university’s helm, and has now moved into a new role as Distinguished University Service Professor.
Gast said that in the coming weeks and months, one of her goals is “to get to know you all better.” She added that it will take time, since she has to balance her internal responsibilities with the demand for external visibility and activities.
“President Gast gave me the impression that she really wants to meet everyone,” said Paula Tevnan, assistant director of admissions. “But I also appreciated her honesty that it could take a while for her to get around to meeting everyone—given the many other responsibilities of her job.”
Pat Chase, director of facilities planning, has been working with Gast’s family on their move into the President’s House. “I’ve been lucky enough to meet the whole family. The kids are great, and the cat, Cashew, is great. They're all just really nice."
Gast also made a strong first impression on those who attended the picnic.
“She obviously has impeccable credentials and is very personable and engaging,” said John A. Norton, assistant vice president of individual gifts. “I’m really looking forward to working with her.”
Janet Tucker, associate director of reunions in the alumni office, agreed: “I thought she was really very personable and sincere in thanking everyone for welcoming her to Lehigh.”
“It was nice to see President Gast not only talk about the Lehigh family, but to also have her family with her at the picnic,” said Meagan McCoy, assistant director of admissions. “It showed how her entire family—her husband and her two kids—is interested in becoming a part of Lehigh.”
McCoy also told the story of a family from South Carolina who visited the campus this past weekend. They mistakenly knocked on the door of the President’s House, and Gast herself walked the family down to the admissions office in the Alumni Building and gave them the proper brochures.
“To me, that showed how accommodating she’ll be as Lehigh’s new president,” said McCoy.
and --Bill Doherty