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MIT’s Alice Gast named Lehigh president

Alice P. Gast speaks to the Lehigh community Tuesday after she was introduced as Lehigh's next president.

Alice P. Gast, a world-renowned researcher with a passion for teaching, has been named Lehigh University’s 13th president.

Gast has served as vice president for research and associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for almost five years. She will succeed Gregory C. Farrington, who announced last fall that he would conclude his eight-year term at Lehigh’s helm in June.

Gast was appointed following a highly competitive and rigorous national search.

“It is a tremendous honor to serve Lehigh University as its next president,” said Gast, who officially assumes her new responsibilities on Aug. 1. “I am inspired by the breadth and excellence of scholarly activities on Lehigh’s campus and I look forward to being part of the Lehigh family and learning more about the campus community.”

After establishing herself as a world-class researcher and award-winning teacher during her 16 years at Stanford University, where she held the position of associate chair of the department of chemical engineering, Gast was recruited to lead MIT’s research efforts in 2001. In addition to her duties as vice president for research and associate provost at MIT, she holds the Robert T. Haslam chair in chemical engineering.

(Click here for Gast’s biography, CV, and text of her remarks at Lehigh on May 9, 2006.)

Gregory Farrington, left, shakes hands with Gast as she arrives with her family for her first Lehigh appearance Tuesday.

"Alice is an exceptionally talented academic leader and a wonderful colleague,” said Susan Hockfield, president of MIT. “Her leadership on issues relating to research policy and organization, faculty governance, and intellectual property, to name a few, is more than impressive, as is her ability to bring people with different interests together around a common agenda. All of these qualities will serve her—and the university—very well as Lehigh's next president."

Farrington welcomed news of Gast’s appointment.

“I've always said that the only thing good enough for Lehigh is the best, and I believe that is just what Lehigh is getting in Dr. Gast,” Farrington said. “Her appointment is truly an outstanding one. Her strengths are perfectly matched to Lehigh’s next set of challenges and I am confident that the institution will be better for her time at Lehigh.”


”A team builder”

A large crowd gathers to listen to Gast's first speech after being introduced as Lehigh's next president.

Gast has risen to the top of her field. Her work in complex fluids and colloids has made her an internationally renowned scholar. Her groundbreaking scientific findings have direct applications in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and advanced materials—research fields that are strengths at Lehigh. And her research has attracted support from industry as well as major agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and NASA.

In 2001, Gast received the highest recognition from her peers when she was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. One year later, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Earlier this year, she was elected to the Board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Stanford University’s president hailed Lehigh’s decision. “Alice is a tremendous scholar and a star faculty member,” said John L. Hennessy. “She is an extraordinary individual whose leadership talents have risen meteorically. Lehigh is fortunate in that she is now ready to take on a new and exciting challenge. She is a great choice for Lehigh’s next president.”

As MIT’s vice president for research and associate provost, Gast is responsible for establishing and upholding the school’s policies on research and she has oversight of MIT’s intellectual property and licensing policies. Her responsibilities also include oversight of graduate policy and international students and scholars.

She is responsible for a number of important interdisciplinary research laboratories and centers, including the Computational and Systems Biology Initiative, the Research Laboratory of Electronics, the Center for Materials Science and Engineering, the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, the Plasma Science and Fusion Center, the Broad Institute for Genomic Medicine, the Division of Comparative Medicine, and the Whitaker College of Health Sciences and Technology.

Charles M. Vest, the former president of MIT who stepped down in 2004, said that Gast has been extremely effective in working with faculty to build interdisciplinary research teams and infrastructure. “Alice Gast will be an extraordinary university president,” Vest said. “She is smart, personable, a team builder, and is deeply committed to academic values and goals.”

(To read what others are saying about Lehigh’s new president, click here.)

Rising to the top

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.

In addition to the recognition she has received for her outstanding research, Gast also was honored for teaching excellence at Stanford, winning the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher Scholar Award.

“That combination of world-renowned research accomplishments and a passionate commitment to students and teaching makes Alice Gast an ideal fit for Lehigh,” said James Tanenbaum, chairman of Lehigh’s board of trustees.

“We are absolutely thrilled that Alice is coming to Lehigh,” Tanenbaum said. “She brings with her an impressive record of achievement and scholarly work that is unparalleled in many ways. We know that she is the kind of leader who will drive Lehigh toward an even more important place in American higher education.”

Provost Mohamed El-Aasser, who has known Gast professionally for the past 20 years, said she possesses a great intellectual ability, as well as the gift of common sense. “I look forward with great enthusiasm to the prospect of working under her leadership,” he said. “She is a true world-class scholar.”

Gast, for her part, is quickly becoming familiar with Lehigh, especially its passionate alumni.

“The special place that Lehigh holds in higher education is evident, particularly when talking to the university’s devoted alumni,” Gast said. “Their passion and love for the institution is impressive, and a bit contagious! It says volumes about the quality of education and experience provided to students on Lehigh’s campus.”

Gast emerged as the choice for Lehigh’s next president from a large pool of candidates comprised of accomplished scholars, successful senior university administrators, business leaders, and government officials.

She was appointed by the board of trustees based on the recommendation of the Presidential Search Committee and with the unanimous approval of the Faculty Personnel Committee.

(For more on the search process, visit the Lehigh University Presidential Search 2006 Web site.)

Making a difference in the world

Alice Gast will be joined at Lehigh by her family, from left, Rebecca, David, and husband, Bradley Askins.

Gast and her family will now become part of the Lehigh family. Her husband is Bradley J. Askins, a computer scientist specializing in the performance of large scale databases and computer systems. The couple has two children: Rebecca, 11, and David, 9. Together the family enjoys the outdoors, especially gardening, hiking, bicycling, and cross-country skiing.

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.

In the speech she delivered at her undergraduate commencement ceremony 26 years ago, Gast expressed the hope that she and her fellow classmates would go on to “make a difference in the world.”

She was as good as her word.

Among her many professional interests, Gast has looked at how higher education can continue to play a more meaningful role to address social and economic challenges.

“We need to continue to work hard to capture the imaginations of our young people and encourage them to be the next generation of innovators,” she said. “We need to motivate students to explore careers in science, technology and other areas that enable them to address the challenges that exist in our global economy.

As Gast prepares to become the first woman president in Lehigh history, she remarked that she is “extremely impressed with the university’s trajectory and momentum.”

Indeed, Farrington hands over leadership of a university on a very firm foundation. Applications to attend Lehigh are at record levels, the school’s endowment is fast approaching the $1 billion mark, and its strengths in business, science, the arts, humanities, and education now complement its traditional clout in engineering.

“Lehigh has never been stronger than it is today,” said Tanenbaum. “Alice Gast will lead Lehigh toward an even brighter future.”

Gast said she can’t wait to embark on her new adventure.

“It is clear to me that Lehigh’s culture of leadership and scholarship will continue to propel the institution to higher levels,” she said. “It will be a privilege to work with the talented and dedicated group of students, faculty, staff and alumni at Lehigh as we face the opportunities and challenges in the years ahead.”

--Jack Croft

Photos by Theo Anderson

Posted on Tuesday, May 16, 2006

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