Lee Iacocca, a 1945 Lehigh University graduate whom CNN named one of the five most influential business people of the past quarter of a century, is ensuring that his influence will be felt at his alma mater for decades to come with the formation of the Lee Iacocca International Internships program.
Iacocca noted that “the idea for the Iacocca International Internships emerged from the questions: How do you go about building global leadership? How do you demonstrate to people from different worlds that their commonalities are greater than their differences? By putting together cross-cultural teams, students are under pressure to perform by working through their cultural differences. They say yes to globalization, yes to cooperation. The students’ enthusiasm is infectious and I would like to think it will infect the world.”
Noting that global leadership is a hallmark of a Lehigh education, President Alice P. Gast said that the new Iacocca international internships will combine global education with practical real-world internships.
“Through Lee’s vision and generosity, this gift will provide opportunities for our students to gain a deeper understanding of the unique challenges that exist in an interdependent and highly connected global society,” she said. “Having practical research, work or service experiences in an area related to your discipline while living in an international environment is a pivotal and life-changing opportunity.”
Learning 'the way the world works'
The new internship program will provide an array of international work experiences for Lehigh students that will include international co-ops, research experiences, and internships or cohort internships, which are internships led by a Lehigh faculty member that matches Lehigh students with their peers from another country to work as a team on a common problem within a multinational corporation.
Iacocca, a legendary business leader known for engineering a revival at Chrysler, will provide up to $5 million in endowment to support a group of international interns each academic year. As a challenge grant, the gift will match funds raised through other alumni and donors for a potential total funding of $10 million.
“More effective than a traditional study abroad experience, the immersion experienced in a work or service internship truly teaches students the way the world works,” said Mohamed El-Aasser, vice president for international affairs. “These experiences can provide the student interns with a significant competitive advantage.”
Richard Brandt, director of the Iacocca Institute, said the Iacocca interns will be selected through a campus-wide competitive process to participate in organized international internships over the summer or through one semester with a foreign company, university, non-governmental organization, or government agency.
Of his experience working for Air Products in Singapore, Ryan Helfrich ’12, said that “living alone in such a foreign part of the world forced me into uncomfortable situations where I learned a lot. I know that all of this has given me a leg up in the job market and, in general, made me a more confident and self-sufficient person.”
Iacocca earned a degree in industrial engineering from Lehigh in 1945, and later studied politics and plastics at Princeton University. In 1985, he led the effort to obtain what would become the 742-acre Mountaintop Campus from Bethlehem Steel. He is an honorary member of Lehigh’s Board of Trustees and, in 2010, was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award by Lehigh's Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.
For more on Lee Iacocca, read his story in the Lehigh Alumni Bulletin.